Friday, December 28, 2007

The Tests of Love to God

In his book, All Things for Good, Thomas Watson gives a list of tests for those who truly love God. For in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. Our love is best seen by the fruit it bears. He lays down fourteen fruits of love to God, and it is crucial for us “to search carefully whether any of these fruits grow in our garden.”
1. The musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. “Set your heart on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1).
2. The desire of communion with God. David writes, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:2). Lovers would be conversing together.
3. Grief for our sins. A child that loves his father cannot but weep for offending him. The heart that burns in love melts in tears. Peter wept bitterly over the realization that he had betrayed his master who loved him dearly (Matthew 26:75). David said that the sacrifices acceptable to God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).
4. Courage. Love is valorous, it turns cowardice into courage. He that loves God will stand up in his cause and be an advocate for him. When the apostles were threatened to keep silent about Jesus, they replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts4:20).
5. Sensitiveness. If we love God, our hearts ache for the dishonor done to God by wicked men. Lot’s righteous soul “was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men.” (2 Peter 2:7).
6. Hatred against sin. Fire purges the dross from the metal. The fire of love purges out sin from the heart. The people of God will say, “What more have I to do with idols?” (Hosea 14:8). Is he a friend to God who loves that which God hates?
7. Crucifixion. He who is a lover of God is dead to the world. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14). Love to God swallows up all other love.
8. Fear. In the godly person love and fear are partners. There is a fear of displeasing God. When tempted by sexual sin, Joseph exclaimed, “How can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). There is also fear mixed with jealousy. “Eli’s heart trembled for the ark” (1 Samuel 4:13). He that loves God fears that a flippant attitude toward God should increase in the followers of Christ and God’s presence be not seen among them.
9. Love what God loves. We love God’s Word (Psalm 119:72, 103). We love God’s rest (Isaiah 58:13). We will love one another as the children of God (1 John 5:1).
10. A good opinion of God. Though God allows suffering and trials, the soul takes it well that loves God. Love interprets all things in the best sense. The writer of Hebrews said, “endure hardship as discipline, God is treating you as sons.” (12:7).
11. Obedience. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21). If we love Christ, we are willing to obey Him regardless of the difficulty or danger involved. “Love always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Should we not suspect our love to God if we are not willing to endure suffering and rejection for Him?
12. Endeavour to make Him appear glorious in the eyes of others. If we love God we shall spread abroad His excellencies, so that we may raise his fame and esteem, and may induce others to fall in love with Him. Love is like fire: where it burns in the heart, it will break forth at the lips.
13. A longing for Christ’s appearing. Expecting Roman execution, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8). Love desires union. He will at that day bestow two jewels upon us. His love; a love so great and astonishing, that it is better felt than expressed. And His likeness (1John 3:2). And from both of these, His love and likeness, infinite joy will flow into the soul.
14. Love will make us stoop to the lowest of service. Love is a humble grace; it does not walk abroad in state; it will creep upon its hands; it will stoop and submit to anything whereby it may be serviceable to Christ. Love is not squeamish; it will visit the sick, relieve the poor, wash the saints’ wounds. He who loves God will humble himself to the meanest service to Christ and His Body, the church.

George Matheson expresses the only reasonable response to God’s unfailing love for me: “O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.”

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Treasuring Christ

Asaph gets lost in the distraction of looking at people rather than God. In Psalm 73, he confesses to losing perspective by focusing on the apparent prosperity and success of others. This is a common problem in my life. I value more the opinion of people than the approval of God. Like Asaph, my vision becomes clouded by the things people own and distorted by the approval of others (v. 12). When this happens my heart and mind become filled with grief, bitterness, frustration and ignorance (v. 21-22). A transformation occurs when the Psalmist brings himself into the eternal presence of God. Oh, that I might be free of this attachment to the constant awareness of the presence of man. When Asaph steps into the sanctuary of God he sees clearly the frailty and finality of humanity (v. 16). At this point God becomes everything as he responds to God, “You hold me . . . You guide me . . . You take me into glory . . . Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (vv. 23-25). I want to say from my heart with Asaph, “it is good to be near God.” (v. 28).

The latest issue of Discipleship Journal has some challenging words from a Christian Classic. When I get my DJ in the mail the first thing I do is turn to the last page. Here I find the enduring words of the followers of Jesus from ages past. This month’s feature is an excerpt from Thomas A. Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. He writes about the incomparable treasure of loving Christ. My journey is to love Christ above all others. To be so filled with devotion to Him that everything else in this world fades in comparison.
Blessed are those who appreciate what it is to love Jesus. He alone should be loved above all things. Affection for [created things] is deceitful and inconstant, but the love of Jesus is true and enduring. Whoever clings to a creature will fall because of its frailty. But those who give themselves to Jesus will ever be strengthened.
Love him, then. Keep him as a friend. He will not leave you as others do or let you suffer lasting death. Sometime, whether or not you will, you will have to part with everything. Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death. Trust yourself to the glory of Him who alone can help you when all others fail. Your Beloved is just; He will not accept what belongs to another. He wants your heart for Himself alone, because it is His right to be enthroned there as King.
You will find, apart from Him, that nearly all the trust you place in men is a total loss. Therefore, neither confide in nor depend upon a wind-shaken reed, for “all flesh is grass,” and all its glory, like the flower of grass, will fade away (Isaiah 40:6). You will quickly be deceived if you look only to the outward appearance of others. You will often be disappointed if you seek comfort and gain in them. If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him.
In the same way, if you seek yourself, you will find yourself – to your own ruin. For those who do not seek Jesus do themselves much greater harm than the whole world and all their enemies could ever do them.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Good that God makes of Our Sense of Personal Sinfulness

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 is the classic text that assures me of the powerful grace of God. There is no doubt in my mind that God is able to bring about good out of every situation in my life. However, I do not know how he does that with my sin. The day-to-day struggle with pride, fear, anxiety, lust and discontentment (just to mention a few) has brought regrets and shame. But what is the good that God is accomplishing?

In his book, All Things for Good (first published in 1663 as, A Divine Cordial), Thomas Watson has given me deeper insight into “knowing” some of the good that God brings out of a sense of my own sinfulness. He is careful to warn: “This must be understood warily, when I say the sins of the godly work for good – not that there is the least good in sin. . . . Sin is worse than hell, but yet God, by his mighty overruling power, makes sin in the issue turn to the good of his people.” Augustine said, “God will never permit evil, if he could not bring good out of evil.” Watson lists several ways in which our feeling of sinfulness works for good.

First, sin makes us weary of this life. “That sin is in the godly is sad, but that it is a burden is good.” The Apostle Paul exclaimed, “What a wretched man that I am! Who shall rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). “A believer carries his sin as a prisoner carries his shackles; oh, how does he long for the day of release!”

Second, sin makes the saint treasure Christ more. “He that feels his sin, as a sick man feels his sickness, how welcome is Christ the physicians to him! He that feels himself stung with sin, how precious is the brazen serpent to him? (see Numbers 21:4-9). When Paul had cried out of a body of death, how thankful was he for Christ!” “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

Third, the sense of sin works for good because it gives opportunity for six special duties.
1. This sense of sin demands that we search our souls. “The child of God desires to know the worst of himself; as a man who is diseased in body desires to know the worst of his disease. Though our joy lies in the knowledge of our graces, yet there is some benefit in the knowledge of our corruptions. It is good to know our sins, that we may not flatter ourselves, or take our condition to be better than it is.”

2. This sense of sin demands that we humble ourselves. Sin is left in our lives to keep us from being proud. “Gravel and dirt are good to ballast a ship, and keep it from overturning; the sense of sin helps to ballast the soul, that it be not overturned with vain glory. . . . Better is that sin which humbles me, than that duty which makes me proud.”

3. This sense of sin demands that we judge ourselves. “If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:31). “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” (1 Peter 4:17). “It is dangerous to judge others, but it is good to judge ourselves. . . . When a man has judged himself, Satan is put out of office.”

4. This sense of sin demands that we battle our old sin nature. There is a duel fought every day between the two natures: the Spirit-filled self and the carnal self. A child of God will not allow sin to reside peacefully in his life. “If he cannot keep sin out, he will keep sin under; though he cannot quite overcome, yet he is overcoming.”

5. This sense of sin demands that we be vigilant in watching ourselves. “The heart is like a castle that is in danger every hour to be assaulted; this makes a child of God to be always a sentinel, and keep a guard about his heart.” “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

6. This sense of sin demands that we seek the renewal of God. “A child of God not only finds out sin, but drives out sin. One foot he sets upon the neck of his sins, and the other foot he turns to follow God’s Word (Psalm 119:59).”

Watson is careful to warn that these truths be not abused. “I do not say that sin works for good to an impenitent person. No, it works for his damnation, but it works for good to them that love God; and for you that are godly, I know that you will not draw a wrong conclusion from this, either to make light of sin or to make bold with sin. If you should do so, God will make it cost you dear. . . . He may put [you] into such bitter agonies and soul-convulsions, as may fill [you] full of horror, and make [you] draw nigh to despair. Let this be a flaming sword to keep [you] from coming near the forbidden tree.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

God’s Housekeeping in Our Lives

My soul mate came home to me last week. For the past five months she’s been on an important long trek across our country. While she was away I moved our entire household to a new location in Melfort. This was an enormous task, nevertheless, it was accomplished with a sense of personal satisfaction. I had considered myself a fairly competent homemaker . . . until my wife came home. From my perspective I had arranged our home in a very functional manner. Everything necessary for existence was within reach from the kitchen table where I worked: telephone, paper shredder, laptop computer, filing cabinet, stereo system, refrigerator, cereal boxes, bowls, spoons, waste bucket. I had the walls decorated with maps of Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. There was no bed to make since I slept on the sofa. Housekeeping was limited to washing clothes and dishes once a week. Everything was arranged for my personal convenience and satisfaction. It seemed like the perfect home, until my life partner moved back in.

This transition was not without problems. I had become confident in my way of keeping house and when it was suggested that there might be a better way, I responded in a rather defensive manner. The struggle continued until I remembered who was moving back in with me: my lover. This woman was not my critic, but the one who delights in sharing life with me. Above everyone else in this world, she loves me no matter how I behave or appear. She had just walked over 3000 kilometers to be with me. Moreover, this woman has proved herself to be an excellent homemaker over the past thirty years we have shared life together. This perspective makes all the difference in the world in the relinquishing of my personal rights in order to make our beautiful home. I would be a fool to resist any change she initiates.

That which I have experienced in relationship with my wife is what God desires for all of us. The Apostle Paul expresses this reality in a prayer: “I pray . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). The Creator of the universe desires to move into our lives to take up permanent residence in order to bring forgiveness, healing and eternal life. And who is this God who is initiating this renovation in our lives. He is the Lover of our soul. The Apostle Paul continues to pray that “you may be rooted and established in love, . . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” And then he concludes by reminding us of the goal of experiencing God’s love: “You may be filled to all the measure of the fullness of God.” Every relationship involves some kind of risk. Trust is indispensable when we open ourselves up to the initiatives of another. God invites us to trust him by surrendering every area of our lives to His work of love. Trust and love are inseparable. I invite you to trust in Jesus Christ, the Lover of your soul and the Keeper of your life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

How to Learn Contentment

Reading and meditating on Jeremiah Burrough's work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, has been a tremendous challenge and encouragement to me. In the last two chapters he delineates how one attains a contented heart. He reminds us of several considerations and directions that should be done for directing the heart in contentment. Here, I'll mention a few.

There are several considerations for contenting the heart in any trial. Essential to our development in this virtue is focus of our thinking. In Colossians 3:2, the Aopstle Paul exhorts us to "Set our minds on things above, not on earthly things." Burroughs calls our attention to some of these heavenly thoughts that should we should make a practice of considering. First, we should consider the greatness of the mercies that God has given compared to the "littleness" of the things we lack. Paul says, "I consider that the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18).

Second, we should consider the abundance of the mercies that God grants and we enjoy. There is an immeasureable wealth of spiritual blessings that can fill our thoughts throughout every day (Ephesians 1:3). Burroughs uses a word picture to convey this truth: "If you pour a pailful of water on the floor in your house, it makes a great mess, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So, our troubles considered in thenselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God's mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison."

Third, Consider the way of God towards all his creatures. God allows and determines all kinds of situations and circumstances for all his creation: "we do not always have summer, but winter succeeds summer; we do not always have day, but day and night; we do not always have fair weather, but fair and foul." Why should we think it strange that there are a variety of circumstances with us, sometimes in the way of prosperity, and sometimes in the way affliction?

Fourth, consider that we have a very short time in this world. the trials and troubles that we endure are but for a moment in the great expanse of eternity. "Do but shut your eyes and soon another life is come." The Apostle Paul put it this way, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light an momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Fifth, remember others who have been faithful in great adversity. Hebrews 11 gives a list of faithful men and women who believed God in spite of intense opposition and trial. Some experienced in their lifetime the deliverance and miraculous provision of God. "Others were tortured and refused to be released, . . . some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated." Since we follow great heritage of faithful men and women, Jesus included, let us joyfully keep our focus fixed on the goal and "scorn the shame" that this world heaps upon us.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Beautiful Scenery of the Christian Journey

I was flipping through some of my old ministry journals today and came across a quote by Charles H. Spurgeon that reminded me of Denise, my wife. For the past 15 weeks she has been on a cross country journey walking from Burlington, ON. back to our home in Melfort, SK. She will be home in five more weeks! At present she is walking across the Canadian prairies that stretch out as a vast flat land. She is enjoying the change from the curves and hills of the Northern Ontario Canadian Shield. These long days of walking gives plenty of time to reflect on the blessings of God. Spurgeon observes that although the journey of life may be long and tedious it is never boring or empty when a person considers the immeasureable blessings of God.

I heard a gentleman say yesterday, that he could walk any number of miles when the scenery was good; but he added, "When it is flat and uninteresting, how one tires!" What scenery it is through which the Christian man walks - the towering mountains of predestination, the great sea of providence, the mighty cliffs of divine promise, the green fields of divine grace, the river that makes glad the city of God - Oh, what scenery surrounds the Christian, and what fresh discoveries he makes every step! (Flashes of Thought, Charles H. Spurgeon, Passmore & Alabaster, 1883, p.19). See the Spurgeon Archive for a wealth of insightful writing.

Denise, with every simple step you take on this incredible journey, I pray that you will be encouraged and empowered by the limitless blessings of our faithful God.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Stability and Security of God

This summer I have been preaching about the attributes of God. I’m approaching the subject from the perspective of knowing God rightly. Every week I recall the words of A. W. Tozer who writes in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The danger that we all face is the tendency to fashion a god after our own preferences. This is idolatry and folly. I want to know the living God intimately and, therefore, I must know him rightly.

God has revealed to us that he is unchanging. “I the LORD do not change.” (Malachi 3:6). In this character quality, we as humans are radically different from the eternal God. In my study of the attributes of God, I have gained great insight from the writings of Arthur W. Pink. In his book, The Attributes of God, He brings out the vast difference between the Creator and the creature. Since God is both all-knowing and all-powerful there is never any need for him to revise or alter his plans in any way.

Herein we may perceive the infinite distance which separates the highest creature from the Creator. Creaturehood and mutability are correlative terms. If the creature was not mutable by nature, it would not be a creature; it would be God. By nature we tend toward nothingness, since we came from nothing. Nothing stays our annihilation but the will and sustaining power of God. None can sustain himself a single moment. We are entirely dependent on the Creator for every breath we draw. We gladly agree with the Psalmist, “He has preserved our lives.” (Psalm 66:9). The realization of this ought to make us lie down under a sense of our own nothingness in the presence of him in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).

One of the elders in our church family shared a verse with me that I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22). I have been aware of how people are responding to the way I have been dealing with a problem. As a result I think the sin of pride has risen within me. Why should I be so concerned about people’s opinions? They, like me, are but a vapour: changing and temporary. To know God rightly, is to know the One who never changes. Again, Pink reorients my thinking about the character of God.

Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If he varied as we do, if he willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if he were controlled by caprice, who could confide in him? But, all praise to his glorious name, he is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, his will is stable, his word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the angry torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of his promises.

I want to be motivated by the same perspective of the Apostle Paul, “It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. I’m not aware of anything that would disqualify me from being a good guide for you, but that doesn’t mean much. The Master makes that judgment.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4 The Message).

For more of the writings of A. W. Pink see or Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Friday, August 10, 2007

Faith: The Gaze of the Soul

I've found A. W. Tozer's insights on faith to be a great encouragement and challenge to me in my desire to please God. In his book, The Pursuit of God, he describes faith as "the gaze of a soul upon a saving God." Jesus used a dramatic Old Testament story to illustrate saving faith in himself. God told Moses to elevate a brass serpent on a pole for all the poisoned people to look to for deliverance from death (Numbers 21:4-9). Tozer points out that look and believe are synonymous terms.

Believing, then, is directing the heart's attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to "beholding the Lamb of God," and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. In my struggle with the sin of pride I find this liberating. For this perspective of faith is so selfless. Tozer observes, "Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves - blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his own soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.

"Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward whom it is directed. Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus. Sin has twisted our vision inward and made it self-regarding. Unbelief has put self where God should be. Faith looks out instead of in and the whole life falls into line."

Lord, I hear you calling me to look away from self to gaze upon You and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but the sin of pride has clouded my vision so much that the sight of You is dim. Please cleanse me with the powerful blood of Jesus, and make me pure so that I may have a clear vision of You all the days of my earthly journey. Amen.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Mystery of Contentment

The spiritual journey that we are called to follow as disciples of Jesus is the path of many apparent contradictions. For example, Paul says that he has discovered that it is only in his sense of weakness that he discovers true strength in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10). Another is Jesus’ instruction that the greatest people in His kingdom are the ones who are servants of all (Mark 10:43-44). Peter tells us that the road to recognition is the path marked by humility (1 Peter 5:6).

The development of the virtue of Christian contentment is also an apparent paradox. In his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs describes the growth of contentment as a mystery. He suggests seven ways that we come to maturity in this virtue. Here is my attempt at paraphrasing his insightful counsel:

First, it may be said of one that is contented that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world. A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage in this life, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion. A soul that is capable of knowing God can be filled with nothing else but God. The human heart that has been enlarged by the grace of God to be capable of knowing god, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself.

Second, a Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. This comes not by adding more to a person’s condition or circumstances, but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and circumstances equal. The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have; but the Christian has an unhindered way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions. Here lies the foundation of all contentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our hearts and our circumstances. The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires.

Third, a Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself. The way of contentment is to load and burden your heart with your sin; the heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart. If a man’s circumstances are heavy with trouble; how shall this man have contentment? By the breaking of his heart. God has broken your circumstances; Oh, seek him for the breaking of your heart as well! Indeed, broken circumstances and a whole, hardened heart, will not join together. But broken circumstances and a broken heart will so suit one another, as there will be more contentment than there was before.

Fourth, it is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the transformation of the affliction, so that it is quite changed into something else. I mean in regard of the use of it. There is the power of God’s grace to turn this affliction into good. Ambrose said, “Even poverty itself is riches to holy men.” You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction. But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity. It is the nature of God’s grace to turn water into wine, that is, to turn the water of your affliction, into the wine of heavenly comfort.

Fifth, a Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances. A worldly heart says, “I must have my wants fulfilled or else it is impossible that I should be content.” But a godly heart asks, “What is the duty of the circumstances that God has put me into?” Others spend their thoughts on things that disturb and disgruntle them, and so they grow more and more discontented. But the godly person sets his mind on thinking about what God requires him to learn and do.

Sixth, a gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires; by this means he gets contentment. In the making of our will to be at one with God’s will, we shall be satisfied. We can be constantly frustrated in attempts to fulfill our own purposes; but we will be satisfied by allowing our will to be swallowed up into the gracious will of our heavenly Father. As the psalmist is glad to sing, “[The LORD] chose our inheritance for us, . . . whom he loved.” (Psalm 47:4).

Seventh, the mystery of contentment consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within. The way to contentment is to purge out our lustful desires and bitter attitudes. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1). The worldly person longs for something outside himself to be content; however, the godly person seeks to get the evil desire out of himself to be content.

Without the understanding of these things, and the practice of them, you will never come to a true contentment in your life; Oh, you will be bunglers in this journey of following Jesus. But the right perspective of these things will help you to be guided in it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Meekness and Rest

I feel restless, frustrated and physically drained. Emotions of anger and aggravation overwhelm me when I sense that I have been rejected by people. I’m so caught up with how I appear to others. What is the cause of this selfishness? Through all this self-centredness I'm hurting the one person who means the most to me. I've been asking God for some answers.

This summer I have been preaching about the character of God and the ultimate pursuit of knowing Him. As I’ve studied in preparation for each Sunday, there is one book that has been a tremendous challenge to me. It was written by A. W. Tozer and is titled, The Pursuit of God. Today I read chapter 9: Meekness and Rest. God reminded me of the root issue and convicted me of the sin that consistently robs me of the peace of God in my life. Tozer says it better than I can:

[T]hese are the evils which make life the bitter struggle it is for all of us. All our heartaches and a great many of our physical ills spring directly out of our sins. Pride, arrogance, resentfulness, evil imaginings, malice, greed are the sources of more human pain than all the diseases that ever afflicted mortal flesh.

Into a world like this the sound of Jesus’ words comes wonderful and strange, a visitation from above. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Here we have two things standing in contrast to each other, a burden and a rest. . . . Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do; it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is rest.

Let us examine our burden. It is altogether an interior one. It attacks the heart and mind and reaches the body only from within. First, there is the burden of pride. The labour of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think to yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honour from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet [people] cary this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.

Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to his rest, and meekness is his method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. . . . The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. . . . He has stopped being fooled by himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place his own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. In the meantime, he will have attained a place of soul rest. As he lives in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace that meekness brings.

Then also he will get deliverance from the burden of pretense. [T]his [is] not hypocrisy, but the common human desire to put the best foot forward and hide from the world our real inward poverty. For sin has played many evil tricks on us, and one has been the infusing into us of a false sense of shame. There is hardly a man or woman who dares to be what he or she is without doctoring up the impression. The fear of being found out gnaws like rodents within their hearts.

Let no one smile this off. These burdens are real, and little by little they kill the victims of this evil and unnatural way of life. To all the victims of the gnawing disease Jesus says, “You must become like little children.” For little children do not compare; they receive direct enjoyment from what they have without relating it to something else or someone else. Only as they get older and sin begins to stir within their hearts do jealousy and envy appear. Then they are unable to enjoy what they have if someone else has something larger or better.

Another source of burden is artificiality. I am sure that most people live in secret fear that some day they will be careless and by chance an enemy or friend will be allowed to peep into their poor, empty souls. So they are never relaxed. . . Artificiality is one curse that will drop away the moment we kneel at Jesus’ feet and surrender ourselves to his meekness. Then we will not care what people think of us so long as God is pleased. Then what we are will be everything; what we appear will take its place far down the scale of interest for us.

The heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense. There is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ. Good, keen reasoning will help slightly, but so strong is this vice that if we push it down one place, it will come up somewhere else. To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” The rest he offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend. God’s grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son of God himself. He calls it “my yoke,” and he walks at one end, while we walk at the other.

Lord, make me childlike. Deliver me from the urge to compete with another for place or prestige or position. I want to be simple and artless as a little child. Deliver me from posing and pretending. Forgive me for thinking of myself. Help me to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding you. Lay upon my soul your easy yoke of self-forgetfulness that by it I may find rest. Amen.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lessons for Life's Journey

This past June I had the privilege of walking with my wife for 560 kilometers. She is currently making her way back to Melfort on foot from Burlington, Ontario. Here’s some life lessons I learned over the four weeks of pounding the pavement on the Trans-Canada Highway.

First, life is a journey that is intentionally marked out for us. It’s not a single event, but a series of opportunities to experience the guiding, caring hand of God. I was daily amazed by the divine appointments with people and events. Life is not a random series of chance circumstances. Rather, it is an intentional path that our faithful heavenly Father leads us along, ultimately to fulfill his purpose. It was this conviction that motivated David to affirm, “I trust in you, O LORD; . . . my times are in your hands.”
Second, a journey is completed one step at a time. Life is a series of experiences and decisions. When I focused on the whole journey ahead of me each day, I became overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. I learned that the only way I could face each day was to be concerned with one step at a time. I was able to find strength to complete one step, and the accumulation of each step was the sum of each day’s journey. God promised Israel that “your strength will equal your days.” With the challenges of each day comes the provision of God’s grace for that day; no more, no less.
Third, in order to complete the journey, you must endure the pain; not avoid it. At one point on the road, my wife had enough of my complaining and gently rebuked me: “You’ll never get anywhere with that attitude. You’ve got to push through the pain.” In the Scriptures we are encouraged to endure trials. Why? Because the painful experiences of life are not meant to be a hindrance but a means to maturing in character. James says it brings us to the place of “lacking nothing.” Don’t avoid difficult situations, through them God is making you into a better person.

Not another Hill?!
That brings me to the fourth lesson: don’t loose sight of the finish! The Simple Steps Walk developed from a vision to raise financial resources to expand the Village of Hope to the next level of education and care for over 300 impoverished children in Burkina Faso, West Africa. When my perspective was blurred by the harsh weather and road conditions or cluttered by the debris and garbage in the ditch, I very quickly became distracted from the final goal and discouraged. In the journey of faith we dare not loose sight of our ultimate hope: to know and enjoy God forever. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, . . . and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The only way you or I can finish the journey of life well and pass into the next in God’s presence is by trusting in Jesus Christ. Don’t loose sight of that!
Fifth, it’s necessary to keep an eye on the road map. At times on the walk it was necessary to make some course corrections due to breakdowns and obstacles along the way. Life’s journey is marked by sinful distractions and selfish deviations from God’s intended path. There is the real danger of getting lost or stalled in our spiritual progress. Paul warned that some have become “shipwrecked in their faith.” It is critical that we constantly consult God’s map (the Scriptures), keep in step with God’s Guide (the Holy Spirit), and respond to God’s compass (our conscience).
Sixth, when you walk that far with someone, you will inevitably step on their toes or trip over them. When that happens, you can’t walk away or avoid the offense. There’s no where to go on the Trans-Canada Highway in the middle of nowhereville, northern Ontario. You have to face the problem. The temptation is to become defensive or create a diversion. This is the futile result of seeing your companion as the problem. The solution is to humbly take each others’ hand and walk together towards the problem and tackle it together. This kind of humility brings about responses of repentance and forgiveness that result in restoration.

Two is better than one.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Plague of Discontent

Although dead, he still speaks. Thomas Watson rebukes to my restless sinful nature that yearns for more of anything but God; discontent and questioning the wisdom of my heavenly Father's providential care.

Here is a just reproof to such as are discontented with their condition. This disease is almost epidemical. Some not content with the calling which God hath set them in, must be a step higher, from the plough to the throne; who like the spider in the Proverbs, will “take hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” Others from the shop to the pulpit; (Nu. 12. 2) they would be in the temple of honour, before they are in the temple of virtue; who step into Moses’ chair, without Aaron’s bells and pomegranates; like apes, which do most show their deformity when they are climbing. It is not enough that God hath bestowed gifts upon men, in private to edify; that he hath enriched them with many mercies? but, “seek ye the priesthood also?” (Nu. 16. 10) What is this but discontent arising from high flown pride? These do secretly tax the wisdom of God, that he hath not screwed them up in their condition a peg higher. Every man is complaining that his estate is no better, though he seldom complains that his heart is no better. One man commends this kind of life, another commends that; one man thinks a country-life best, another a city-life; the soldier thinks it best to be a merchant, and the merchant to be a soldier. Men can be content to be anything but what God would have them. How is it that no man is contented? Very few Christians have learned St Paul’s lesson: neither poor nor rich know how to be content, they can learn anything but this. [from A Puritan at Heart]

For more writings by Thomas Watson check out:
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Thomas Watson Reading Room
Forgetten Heros: Thomas Watson

Monday, July 23, 2007


"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength" Isaiah 30:15.

I am agitated these days. My soul is disturbed by the many crises that friends are facing. I long to be with my soul-mate. Feelings of apathy and exhaustion overwhelm me to the point of weeping. My emotions are fragile. Today, in a crisis moment, I behaved in a way that is uncharacteristic of a follower of Jesus. Things are not as I would like them to be. Last night I read my son-in-law's blog entry and was convicted by the thought that I am discontented. So, today I picked up a book that I had been reading earlier this year. The book was written by a puritan pastor, Jeremiah Burroughs. It is a short paper back, however it has been a rich source of instruction for me along the journey of faith. The title expresses the high view that the author places upon the virtue of contentment: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I just picked up where the book mark was. The following is an excerpt that challenged me:

Those who are contented are ready to receive mercy from the Lord. If you want a container to take in any liquid, you must hold it still for if the cup stirs and shakes up and down, you cannot pour in anything, but you will say, "hold still," that you may pour it in and not lose any. So if we would be containers to receive God's mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we must have quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we receive mercy from the Lord.

It seems that the more stressful life gets, the more anxious and busy I respond in emotion and behaviour. Why? I think I feel responsible to take control and deal with the problems. But then I feel incompetent, helpless and then worthless. And then the frustration and resentment comes into my heart. The more frustrated I get, the more restless I become. In this self-absorbed state, I am apt to respond in defensive and angry ways when I perceive more problems arising. What a muddled mess I've made simply because of a lack of contentment. I have lost sight of the Lord and his hand controlling every circumstance of my life. Better to stop in an attitude of humility and quietness and think, "Well, it is right that the Lord should do with his poor creatures what he will, I am under his control, and am resolved to do what I can to honour him, and whatever he does with me, I will seek him as long as I live, I will be content with what God gives, and whether he gives or not I will be content." Quietness is necessary for this kind of mindset to be nutrured in my life. I must make time to stop and intentionally set my mind on Christ. It struck me this morning in reading Romans 7 that the battle for godliness is determined in my mind: "in my mind I am a slave of God's law" (v.25). The questions that I must face every day are: Who do I belong to? Who will I give myself to? Stop grumbling for what I don't have and thank God for who he is and what he's doing in my life and others. That's contentment!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Gems of Spiritual Wisdom

John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a Spanish friar, theologian, poet and religious reformer. He is perhaps best known for the depth of insight of his poem and commentary entitled, The Dark Night of the Soul. Here are some gems of spiritual wisdom that come from his collection of sayings which he jotted down over many years for the sake of those who sought his advice for Christian living:

  • Lord, my God, You are not a stranger to him who does not estrange himself from You.

  • The soul that journeys to God but does not shake off its cares and quiet its appetites is like one who drags a cart uphill.

  • See that you are not suddenly saddened by the adversities of this world, for you do not know the good they bring, being ordained in the judgments of God for the everlasting joy of the elect.

  • He who seeks not the cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.

  • All the goodness we possess is lent to us, and God considers it His own work.

  • The Devil fears a soul united to God as he does God Himself.

  • More is gained in one hour from God’s good things than in a whole lifetime from your own.

  • Never give up prayer; and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.

  • Remember always that everything that happens to you, whether prosperous or adverse, comes from God, so that you neither become puffed up in prosperity nor discouraged in adversity.

  • Conquering the tongue is better than fasting on bread and water.

  • Suffering for God is better than working miracles.

  • In all things, both high and low, let God be your goal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Why Think about Heaven?

A few of my grade school teachers made the comment on my report card, “Paul would be a better student if he would stop daydreaming and pay more attention in class.” Even though those little mental excursions got me in trouble as a youth, I’m still trying to practice the discipline of “getting my head in the clouds.” Why the forward/upward focus? Because that’s where home is. Paul reminds us “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Richard Baxter gives a number of reasons for meditating on heaven in his book, “The Saint’s Everlasting Rest.”

1. Endurance in Suffering.
Baxter was an English puritan pastor and theologian in 17th century England who was chronically sick all his life. He was tubercular from his teens and suffered constantly from kidney stones, headaches and swollen limbs. In 1662, along with two thousand other Puritan clergy, he was banished from his church and persecuted by the British government for the last three decades of his life. Yet he continued to serve the church faithfully and became one of the most prolific spiritual writers in English history. What kept him going? From his thirtieth year he practiced a habit of meditating on the life to come for half an hour every day. Diligent cultivation of hope gave him daily endurance in disciplined hard work for God, despite the debilitating effect each day of his sick body and the overwhelming opposition of man.
Baxter wrote, “Frequent views of glory are the most precious medicines in all afflictions. These medicines, by cheering our spirits, render our sufferings far more easy, enable us to bear them with patience and joy, and so strengthen our resolutions that we forsake not Christ for fear of trouble. If the way be ever so rough, can it be tedious, if it leads to heaven? This is the noble advantage of faith: it can look on the means and the end together. The great reason for our impatience and complaining of God is that we gaze on the evil itself, but fix not our thoughts on what is beyond it. Could we but clearly see heaven as the end of all God’s dealings with us, surely none of his dealings would be grievous.”

2. Encouragement to Others.
Our hope of heaven is meant to be a source of encouragement to one another. Baxter observes, “When a man is in a strange country, how glad he is of the companionship of one from his own nation. How delightful it is to talk of their own country, their acquaintance, and affairs at home. When a worldly man will talk of nothing but the world, and the politician the state of affairs, and a mere scholar of human learning, and a common professor of his duties; the heavenly man will be speaking of heaven, and the strange glory his faith has seen, and our speedy and blessed meeting there. O how refreshing and useful are his expressions! How his words pierce and transform the hearers into other men!”

This practice of “heavenly meditation” is the reasonable response to the immeasurable mercies of God. “It is fitting that our hearts should be on God, when the heart of God is so much on us. If the Lord of glory can stoop so low as to set his heart on sinful dust, I think we should easily be persuaded to set our hearts on Christ and glory, and ascend to him in our daily affections, who so much condescends to us.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Book Links

Here's some links to the books that I have referred to in the last two postings:

Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen: Library Thing; AbeBooks

The Saint's Everlasting Rest, Richard Baxter: Library Thing; AbeBooks

So Heavenly Minded; No Earthly Good?

I’ve been thinking lately about the old saying, “You’re so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.” While Scott ( was visiting with us a few weeks ago he sang the Johnny Cash song by this title. It was meaningful to the Scripture text we were reading (Matthew 6:1-18). Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of self-centered religion. Devotional practices that are focused on self are of no good to God or man. Jesus might well have said, “You’re so self-absorbed that you’re of no earthly or heavenly good.” Reflecting on the Johnny Cash song, I think that was the intent of his musical musings.

The Scriptures state quite clearly that there is a redeeming quality to being heavenly minded. The apostle Paul urges us to, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Richard Baxter’s book, “The Saint’s Everlasting Rest” has become a devotional classic on this practice. Baxter was an English puritan pastor and theologian in 17th century England. In his book he gives a number of reasons for “bathing thy soul in heaven’s delights.”

1. Protection from Temptation.
“Will a judge be persuaded to rise from the bench, when he is sitting upon a case of life and death, to go and play with children in the streets? No more will a Christian when he is contemplating his eternal rest, give heed to the alluring charms of Satan. A heavenly mind is the freest from sin. He has so deep an insight into the evil of sin that temptations have little power over him. When you have had a fresh, delightful taste of heaven, you will not be so easily persuaded from it. You cannot persuade a child to part with his candies while the taste is in his mouth. Further, while the heart is set on heaven, a man is under God’s protection. If Satan then assaults us, God is more engaged for our defense, and no doubt he will stand by us and say, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When a man is in the way of God’s blessing, he is in the less danger of sin’s enticing.”

2. Strength in Our Christian Life.
“The heavenly Christian is the lively Christian. It is our strangeness to heaven that makes us so dull. We run so slowly, and strive so lazily, because we so little focus on the prize. Watch the man who is focused on heaven, and you will see that he is not like other Christians; something of what he has seen above appears in all his behaviour and conversations.”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Journey of Death

I’ve been reading John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Here's some personal reflections.

Our life in Christ calls for a constant vigilance to the work of death. The old English term is “mortification.” It is our duty to daily put sin to death in our life. “Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness and against every degree that we grow to. . . . He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward his journey’s end.” If we are not killing sin it is killing us. The principle of the flesh is always at work in our life. It relentlessly beckons for us to forsake the path of righteousness. If we are not ruthless with the old nature, it will have its way with us. “Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul (Psalm 31:10; 51:8), and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die (Psalm 38:3-5), so that he cannot look up (Psalm 40:12; Isaiah 33:24); and . . . expect anything but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and that his soul should bleed to death (2 John 8).” The sin principle is never satisfied in me. It is like a great yawning hole; ever rumbling to be filled. Give it a taste and it wants everything. “Sin aims always at the utmost. Every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its ultimate outcome. . . . It is like the grave that is never satisfied.” “There is not a day but sin . . . prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.”

Thank God there is another principle at work within the life of the Follower of Jesus. That is the Spirit of the Living God and the new nature of Christ (Galatians 5:17). “There is a propensity in the Spirit, or spiritual new nature, to be acting against the flesh . . . It is our participation of the divine nature that gives us an escape from the pollutions that are in the world through lusts . . . If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. . . . Not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has blessed us with a principle of doing it.” I want to be always about the duty of “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and “growing in grace” (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Love Lustres at Calvary

My Father,
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips,
supply words that proclaim 'Love lustres at Calvary.'
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on the Son,
made a transgressor, a curse, a sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy
that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell's worst
that I might attain heaven's best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light,
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorned crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might live forever.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
my every step bouyant with delight, as I see
my enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
hell's gates closed, heaven's portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,
mighty to subdue, comfort and save.
The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett.