Carpe Diem-Sieze the Day!

I came across Ecclesiastes 7:10 in my devotions today  —  “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’”  I was reminded of a statement that I hear with some regularity, and heard again last weekend —  “I want my old church back!”  If you attend a multi-generational church, you have no doubt heard that statement in one form or another . . . the former days were better . . . the changes that we have experienced are not for the better . . . if we could only go back.

 Before I wander and wonder too much further let me offer a disclaimer — I am part of the generation that wants their old church back.  Well, basically I’m at the younger end of it, but still a part of that generation.  And ‘Yes’ there have been changes in my church, particularly in worship, that I’m still trying to adjust to.  For example, I haven’t adjusted to tambourines in the morning service (or any service) yet.  And ‘Yes’ I’m not convinced that change is always for the better.  At the same time, there are changes that have occurred which I not only accept, but embrace.

  However, recently as I thought about the desire to go back to ‘the good old days’ and ‘get our church back’ several thoughts struck me . . .

If we were to go back, there are a number of senior saints that we would have to recall from heaven which I am quite sure would not make them happy.

If we were to go back, there are a number of present members who would not be attending or feel comfortable in our formerly essentially mono-cultural, mono-ethnic church.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of mission’s trips we would have to recall.  This means that there are a number of our young people (and adults) who would lose the experiences they have had with other cultures and other believers . . . who would lose their experience in outreach and evangelism . . . who would lose their surrender to God for service . . . who would . . . well you should get the idea.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of messages we would have to erase.  Messages on topics that would not and, at times, could not be preached back in the ‘good old days.’  Messages on abuse, discrimination, oppression . . . that have touched broken hearts and led to redeemed lives and reconciliation.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of my generation that would have to forfeit their retirements.  They would have to leave their renewed focus on ministry and return to secular employment.

 If we were to go back, there are a number of opportunities we would lose in reaching the generation we actually live in today — if we would reach it at all.  What has worked in one generation does not necessarily work and at times is not desirable in subsequent generations.  The issues that rightly and righteously occupied one generation are not necessarily present in subsequent generations.

 Perhaps our real need is not to regain our church from ‘the good old days.’  Perhaps our real need is to heed the repeated admonition of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes — “Live for today.  The past is spent.  The future is guaranteed to no one.  Glorify God today.”

Why Good Theologians Are Worth Reading, Even When They Are Sometimes Wrong

There is a heroic quality to the thought of men who are willing to tackle the greatest themes relating to God, creation, salvation, and the church: even when they make mistakes, they make magnificent mistakes from which we can all learn.  In a day of small men and small minds, we should be grateful that the Lord is truly good, and has provided such brilliant men to inform the great traditions of the church and to provide us with immense resources of theology and devotion.

Carl Trueman, “On Heroes and the Heroic”http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2010/09/on-heroes-and-hero-worship.php

Not What I Used to Be

As Christians, the longer we are saved the greater the recognition of the desperate plight of our old nature and the utter futility of any attempt at holy living in our own strength. I was reminded of this recently in teaching a group of senior saints – many of whom have been saved for decades. In a discussion of Peter’s admonition in 1 Pet 2:12 to “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,” more than a few of these veteran believers lamented regarding their ongoing struggles and the all too familiar experience of needing to repent and seek forgiveness for recurring sins.

This same sentiment is conveyed in the puritan prayer “Confession and Petition” from The Valley of Vision.  The following excerpt is typical:

Holy LORD,

I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find thy mind in thy Word, of neglect to seek thee in my daily life.

My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations.

Yet, for believers in Jesus Christ, this is not the final word. Rather, our daily struggles are to be lived in light of two important truths – the first of which is expressed in the next line of this same Puritan prayer:

But I bless thee that they [my transgressions and short-comings] will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ.

For those of us who know Christ as Savior, the glorious and amazing truth is that every sin we will ever commit has been laid on Him.  They have been nailed to His cross (Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 2:2) and paid for by His precious blood (1 Pet 1:18-19; Col 1:14, 22).  Moreover, this amazing transaction serves not as a license to sin (Rom 6:1, 2), but as a powerful motivation for holy living. The deeper one’s understanding of and embracing of the atonement—that is, the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross—the greater one’s appreciation and motivation to live a life that pleases Him. For the true child of God, the cross is not simply the starting point, as if it’s something we’re to grow beyond – it is the focus or culmination of the entire biblical storyline.  Even in the climatic final book of the New Testament, the cross takes center stage as it is only the slain Lamb who is worthy to take the scroll and begin to enact the horrific judgments of the Apocalypse (Rev 5:1-10).  As J. I. Packer rightly asserts, “The traveler through the Bible landscape misses his way as soon as he loses sight of the hill called Calvary,” or as declared by J. Knox Chamblin, “The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it.”

It is a preoccupation, yea, an obsession with the cross and all that it signifies that will keep us from falling victim to the allurements of the world or to the desires of the flesh.  It is the flame of the cross that fuels the fire of our love for Christ.  For the Christian, the cross not only removes the penalty for sin (placing it upon our sinless substitute) but it empowers us to live above sin’s dominion and enslavement. It is in the shadow of the cross, with its abiding echo of “It is finished,” where Satan trembles – as he is powerless to touch any who abide therein.

The second critical truth to embrace in our ongoing struggle with sin is that, with the new birth and the indwelling of His Spirit, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pet 1:3).  That is, the power to live morally upright lives does not come from within us, but from God. As believers, we are to appropriate that power in the ongoing daily struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (James 3:15; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 6:10-13). While perfect sinlessness will never be achieved this side of glory (1 John 1:8), progressive sanctification, as evidenced by the believer’s sinning less, can and should be (1 John 2:3-6; ).  The well-known testimony of John Newton speaks for itself:

I am not what I ought to be—ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be—I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be—soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

May the Lord encourage your heart today through the grand and glorious truths of the cross and the sacrifice of His Son! May there be a renewed sense of wonder and awe at the power of the gospel and of its transforming power in the lives of those who embrace it.

One Hundred and One Things

During one of those busy weeks recently, I came across a quotation from Oswald Chambers that jumped off the page and grabbed my attention:

“No matter if there are a hundred and one things that press, resolutely exclude them all and look to Him.”

That really spoke to my heart because in that particular moment, I was looking at the hundred and one things and not doing a very good job looking to the Lord.

Have you noticed that most every day of your life the “hundred and one things” are always there? Anxieties about work . . . family issues . . . money problems . . . concerns about your health . . . the U.S. economy . . . terrorist attacks . . . .  Some days your list may number more than a hundred and one!

Have you also noticed that when you permit yourself to look exclusively at the hundred and one things, the more they seem to “press?” The more you look at them, the heavier they feel. Before long you feel so far under that you have to reach up to touch the floor.

It is in these moments when we feel most pressed, we must get our eyes off the hundred and one things and onto the Lord. But how do you do that? How do you “resolutely exclude” the hundred and one things? Paul has some helpful advice for us here:

“Rejoice in the Lord . . . Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4, 6-9).

May the Lord help us today to replace our anxious thoughts about the hundred and one things with right thoughts about Him – His power, His mercy, His fatherly care, His faithfulness to keep promises, and most importantly, His coming near to us in the person of His Son. Then we can talk to Him about the hundred and one things – and know that He is already actively at work through our prayers. As you place your hundred and one things on Him, you will sense the “press” being replaced by His power.

Hezekiah’s Folly

Each time I read through the scriptural accounts of the life of Hezekiah, I am both challenged and convicted by the testimony of this godly king of Judah.  The impact of his life in the history of God’s people as detailed in three extended accounts within the OT (2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32, and Isaiah 36-39) is extraordinary.  Hezekiah is clearly an exemplary king under whose leadership Judah experienced the favor and blessing of God. Since the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel over 200 years earlier, no king had served God with greater devotion and passion than Hezekiah.  According to 2 Kings 18, he “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.”  Even surpassing Asa and Jehoshaphat in commitment to Yahweh, Hezekiah “trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.”

Indeed, Hezekiah’s kingship was unparalleled in the history of Judea, serving as a reminder of the reign of King David and perhaps even foreshadowing a greater king to come. He restored temple worship, was the first to remove the high places, and even destroyed the bronze serpent which Moses had made in the wilderness – as it had become an object of worship. When facing certain defeat at the hands of the mighty Sennacherib of Assyria, Hezekiah trusted God (albeit, after an initial capitulation to the demands of this pagan ruler) and experienced one of the most dramatic deliverances in Israel’s history. Finally, in the midst of a critical illness with an accompanying pronouncement of sure and imminent death, Hezekiah’s prayer moved the God of heaven to heal his sickness and add fifteen years to his life.  Moreover, as confirmation that the LORD would fulfill his promised healing, Hezekiah was given a miraculous sign through the unnatural movement of a shadow.  Surely, Hezekiah would serve as a role model of faith and obedience for generations to follow!

Yet in the end Hezekiah suffered from the most basic and deadly of human sins—pride and self-centeredness. When approached by envoys from pagan Babylon, Hezekiah not only welcomed them, but he showed them his treasure house – foolishly revealing the extent of his wealth to a nation intent on conquest and plunder. The one whose faith in Yahweh had stood so firm against the mighty assault from Assyria now foolishly drew attention to himself as if he was somehow responsible for the deliverance and corresponding prosperity that he and Judah now enjoyed. The same Hezekiah who previously cried out, “So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his [Sennacherib’s] hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone” (2 Kings 19:19), now appears more concerned that the kingdoms of the earth know of Hezekiah’s prominence than of Yahweh’s glory.  Notice the record of Hezekiah’s pride as he was quick to show the Babylonian envoys “all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:13). While he previously boasted only in the power of his God, Hezekiah now sought to impress others with his own earthly treasures.

In what is certainly a tragic twist of irony, Hezekiah’s foolhardy display of self-centeredness mirrors the very attitude previously evidenced by Sennacherib – one which was quickly and decidedly condemned by God.  Note the words of this powerful and egotistical king of Assyria: “With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon; I felled its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses; I entered its farthest lodging place, its most fruitful forest. 24 I dug wells and drank foreign waters, and I dried up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt” (2 Kings 19:23-24). While we’re not surprised by the arrogant words of this ungodly pagan ruler, the prideful display by one of Judah’s most celebrated kings leaves us with a sobering challenge. Like Hezekiah, we are all prone to seek attention and accolades for ourselves. The insidious sin of pride can rear its ugly head in many ways – even camouflaged under the banner of ministry or service for Christ. The flight from spiritual prosperity to self-promotion is all too often full with Christian passengers vying for first class.  The elation that accompanies God’s good hand of blessing can quickly degenerate into an attitude of self-centeredness if we take our eyes off the One from whom all blessings flow. The last chapter in the life of Hezekiah is a sobering reminder that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).  There is no room for arrogance, egotism, or self-aggrandizing in the life of the spirit-led servant of the Lord (Eph 4:1-3; Phil 2:3; 1 Pet 5:5).  May we who serve Christ not repeat Hezekiah’s folly but rather make our boast in the Lord (2 Cor 10:17-18) – the One ‘from whom and through whom and to whom are all things’ (Rom 11:36).

Extraordinary No-Names

In the book entitled, Unnamed: Unsuspecting Heroes Singled Out by God, author Chris Travis notes how God often chooses to use unsuspecting, even unnamed, individuals to accomplish significant tasks in His service.  To be sure, there are many unnamed heroes in the Scriptures – from the unnamed Egyptian princess who rescued the baby Moses (Exod 2:5-6) to the unnamed centurion who, wishing to save Paul’s life, thwarted the soldier’s plan to kill the prisoners (Acts 27:42-43). In a recent read through the OT, I was impressed with the contribution of one “extraordinary no-name,” the unnamed servant of Abraham in Genesis 24 who God used to secure a wife for Isaac.  While some suggest this servant may be Eliezer of Damascus, the individual who Abram contemplated making his heir nearly sixty years earlier (Gen 15:2), there is no explicit textual warrant within Genesis 24 for such an identification.  What we can conclude from this chapter is that this individual, an unnamed servant, is in many respects the unsung hero of this milestone event in the life and progeny of Abraham.  As this and other accounts in Scripture indicate – unnamed or unknown does not mean insignificant to God and His service.

As the Genesis 22 opens, we find an elderly Abraham continuing to experience the blessings of God, yet concerned that his son Isaac might take a pagan Canaanite woman for his wife. To avert such a possibility, Abraham entrusts to this servant the responsibility of finding a wife for Isaac from among Abraham’s own relatives in northern Mesopotamia.  While at one level this unnamed servant was merely carrying out his master’s request, the manner in which he does so is noteworthy.

Beginning with his humble submission to Abraham’s authority (v. 9) and a prayerful dependence on the Lord (vv. 12-14, 42-44), this unnamed servant exhibited a host of admirable qualities.  Within this one chapter of Scripture, we see evidenced: his foresight and thoughtful inquiry as to potential obstacles (v. 5); his creativity in formulating strategy (v. 11); his timeliness, resourcefulness, and preparedness for action (v. 53); his earnest desire for God’s steadfast love to be upon his master (v. 12); his prompt action upon discerning God’s working (vv. 15-17, 45-46), yet patience in waiting upon the Lord (v. 21); his worshipful gratitude for God’s provision (vv. 26-27, 52); and his courage in countering potential resistance to carrying out his master’s desire (vv. 55-56). While unnamed and perhaps unknown outside of Abraham’s household, this hero of the faith is quite extraordinary in his service – both to his master Abraham and to his LORD. He faithfully fulfilled the commission that had been committed to him.

In the above mentioned book Unnamed, author Chris Travis considers eight unsuspecting heroes of the Scriptures under the respective category headings: unexpected, unclean, unpolished, unworthy, underestimated, uncertain, unnoticed, and unranked.  Most of us who know and serve the Lord undoubtedly relate to one or more of these generally inauspicious designations and go through life relatively unknown and effectively unnamed.  Yet, the life of Abraham’s unnamed servant is a powerful reminder that God works His great plan through common everyday individuals who sincerely desire to use their God-given talents and gifts in His service.  What may appear as simple ordinary tasks, when done from a heart of service, are, in fact, quite extraordinary because of the One we serve (Matt 25:40).  May the Lord grant us grace so that, like Abraham’s unnamed servant, we may one day hear, “Well done thou good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21). In God’s eyes, ordinary no-names become extraordinary when they faithfully serve the Master.

The Reason Why Some People Talk about Seminary, but Never Attend

Every seminary experiences prospective students who inquire, visit, and plan to enroll, but never end up attending. Sometimes they go to another seminary. Sometimes their path turns a different direction. Sometimes, however, the conditions just aren’t “favorable” for attending seminary “at this time.” While I’m sure many have perfectly good reasons, I wonder about some. C. S. Lewis reminds us that the pursuit of knowledge is not for the sunshine soldier and the weekend warrior:

“The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” (from “Learning in Wartime,” in The Weight of Glory, 50).

Ecclesiastes 11:4 concurs:

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

 

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