Archive for the Meditation Category
Thankfulness is a deeply Christian thing.
We have come to terms with what we deserve: we deserve the just wrath of God. And yet we have come to know this God in a saving way. We deserve death, but we know eternal life. We deserve the curse, but we have every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.
And while there is suffering in this life – even very great suffering – we can say with the apostle Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). We can ask the best rhetorical question ever, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). And we can be sure of the boldest promise, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).
All of those words are true. We have everything we need if we have the love of Christ, and the Christian life is one of growing in the deep conviction that these precious promises are true (2 Peter 1:3-4).
So what shall we give to God for all of this?
There are many answers to that question. Thankfulness is certainly one of them. Here, the book of Psalms gives us some helpful language for our prayers: “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? . . .I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:12, 17).
As those who belong to Christ, we can pray this prayer, for we have known the the benefits of the Lord.
Ryan touched on this subject in two sermons he preached a little over a year ago at the start of his series through the book of Colossians. In, “Thank God for Gospel Growth,” and “Our Prayers, God’s Priorities,” Ryan preached from Colossians 1:3-8 and 1:9-14, helping us grasp some of the reasons for thankfulness and the importance of thankfulness in the Christian life.
Each of the first four units of Luke 18 can easily be misunderstood; each makes abundant sense when read in conjunction with the others.
The first (18:1-8) is a parable that Jesus tells his disciples “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (18:1). An unjust judge is badgered by a persistent widow so that in the end he provides her with the justice she asks for. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (18:7). If even this judge eventually puts things right, how much more will God, when his “chosen ones” cry to him? By itself, of course, this parable could be taken to mean that the longer and louder one prays, the more blessings one gets—a kind of tit-for-tat arrangement that Jesus himself elsewhere disavows (Matt. 6:5-15). But the last verse (18:8) focuses the point: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The real problem is not with God’s unwillingness to answer, but with our faithless and lethargic refusal to ask.
The second (18:9-14) parable describes a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray. Some modern relativists conclude from this story that Jesus accepts everyone, regardless of his or her continuing sins, habits, or lifestyle. He rejects only self-confident religious hypocrites. Certainly Jesus rejects the latter. But the parable does not suggest that the tax collector wished to continue in his sin; rather, he begs for mercy, knowing what he is; he approaches God out of a freely recognized need.
In the third unit (18:15-17) Jesus insists that little children be brought to him, “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” One must “receive the kingdom of God like a child,” or not at all. Yet this does not commend childlike behavior in all respects (e.g., naïveté, short-term thinking, moral immaturity, the cranky “No!” of the “terrible twos”). But little children do have an openness, a refreshing freedom from self-promotion, a simplicity that asks and trusts.
The fourth unit (18:18-30) finds Jesus telling a rich ruler to sell all that he has and give to the poor, if he is to have treasure in heaven, and then follow Christ. Does this mean that only penurious asceticism will enjoy the blessings of heaven? Is it not Christ’s way of stripping off this particular person’s real god, the pathetic ground of his self-confidence, so that he may trust Jesus and follow him wholly?
Can you see what holds these four units together?
– Excerpted from D. A. Carson’s, For the Love of God, vol. 1, entry for March 4.
Acts 20:28 tells us that Jesus obtained the church with his own blood. Is this what your love for the church is based on? If it’s anything less than it won’t last.
- Don’t love the church because of what it does for you. Because sooner or later it won’t do enough.
- Don’t love the church because of a leader. Because human leaders are fallible and will let you down.
- Don’t love the church because of a program or a building or activities because all those things get old.
- Don’t love the church because of a certain group of friends because friendships change and people move.
Love the church because of who shed his blood to obtain the church. Love the church because of who the church belongs to. Love the church because of who the church worships. Love the church because you love Jesus Christ and his glory. Love the church because Jesus is worthy and faithful and true. Love the church because Jesus loves the church.
(HT: Pure Church)
Clearly, the Lord is at work. He is creating new conditions for the future. In the 90s, we had nothing of the magnitude of The Gospel Coalition, Together For The Gospel, Acts 29 and other obvious indicators of a new movement of God. We did have, say, Promise Keepers, which helped many. But PK was not explicitly gospel-centered, not aggressively theological. Its impact was unsustainable. But now the Lord is giving us something new, something better. Let’s be thankful to him. This doesn’t come along every day. Let’s steward the blessing well. If we bungle this, I doubt we will see it again in our time. But if we are wise, not intruding our own self-centered complications but humbly keeping Christ first, the blessing will grow. And maybe, in the mercy of God, we will see awakening in our time.
I was privileged to be in a small meeting in Chicago this week where Ray said something very similar to this (and he said it with tears). I thought then, Ray is in such a unique position to make a comment like this: he has dozens of years of ministry experience in various ministries and denominations, and has been thinking about and praying for revival through it all. I certainly don’t have the length of experience or depth of thought that Ray has, but, for what it’s worth, this is absolutely consistent with what I’ve seen in just 13 years of being in the ministry. Things have indeed changed. There is a new inter-denominational cooperation in the gospel of the reformation and partnership in ministry and hope for revival that seems to be a special gift from the Lord.
Regardless of your politics, regardless of who got your vote, I hope you don’t miss the opportunity to give thanks to God for what it means that this country now has an African American in its highest office.
In his inaugural address today, President Obama said this:
“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath. So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled.”
These are pregnant words indeed. So much more could have been said about the historical background that makes this inauguration so remarkable. We should ponder that today. We should recall, or possibly even research, some of the stories and statistics of blacks being captured, sold, trafficked, enslaved, beaten, and killed in this country. We should remember the gross evil that was in this country when a “right” to enslave a man based solely on color was defended even unto civil war (and the deaths of 620,000 therein). We should remember that Rosa Parks not giving up her seat to a white man was a cultural shockwave just over 50 years ago. We should recall that segregation wasn’t merely a cultural phenomenon then, but a political one under the Jim Crow laws: separate drinking fountains, separate waiting areas, separate schools, separate places to eat were law in most states. And this was in my father’s lifetime.
I don’t know such days except for books and movies. But however I have learned or will continue to learn of such history, I cannot allow myself to feel like it is distant history. It is not.
There’s a lot behind the tears of African Americans standing on the National Mall in Washington DC today. It’s a duty and a privilege for me to understand what’s behind them (as best as a white, 34 year old male can), and join them in giving thanks to God for these remarkable days.
So go find someone who knows American history better than you; find someone who knows what the segregation of the 1950s was like, and ask them to tell you some stories of what they saw. Go get a new book from the library or bookstore; watch Amistad or Mississippi Burning; do some surfing on the web to recall forgotten details or learn new ones about the story of race in our country.
But then don’t forget to move your reflection from this story to The story. The story of redemptive history doesn’t ultimately rise and fall on American politics and culture. He uses this or that story for His redemptive purposes, but He is unfolding a hope which is far beyond the scope or ability of any human institution or ideal. In fact, the reality of His kingdom alone can give enduring hope amidst the worst atrocities — in days of legalized slavery and in days of legalized abortion. Even when it seems to the contrary, Jesus is putting all things under His feet (1 Cor 15:27); He is reconciling all things unto Himself (Col 1:20). In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, black nor white (Gal 3:28). In the New Heaven and the New Earth the wolf and lamb will lie down together; a boy will put his hand into the den of a cobra without fear (Isa 11). What are these but pictures of unthinkable, unparalleled peace. It is the peace of a new creation and a heavenly country. Our King and His kingdom have long been inaugurated; we only await the consummation. It is coming. And when it does, we — with a multitude which no man can number, from every tribe and kindred — will weep with holy joy that the day has finally come.
I’ve been in the book of Hebrews lately working through what people call the “warning passages.” Commentators vary a little on how many there are, but the main ones are: 2:1-4; 3:6, 14; 6:4-6; 10:26-27; and 12:8.
A large part of Hebrews is about warning believers (that is, us!). Not warning them about the evils of the world. Rather, warning them to take Christ seriously, His work seriously, and to “preach” the gospel to ourselves and “examine” ourselves (parts of verses elsewhere in the New Testament but the idea is very much here in Hebrews).
If I had to do a two-word caption for the book I think I’d pick: Solus Christus (Latin for “only Christ”). If you gave me a couple more words I’d go for: “The Supremacy of Christ.” A little longer: “The Supremacy of Christ over the Old Covenant.” And about the longest I’d want to go: “The Supremacy of Christ over the Old Covenant for Those Undergoing Persecution.”
There are two books in the New Testament that, in a significant way, address persecuted Christians: the book of Revelation and the book of Hebrews. Revelation is written more for the church as she undergoes persecution, and Hebrews is more for a mix of both the corporate church and individual believers. Here in the States we don’t really face persecution, at least anything like what they did in the first century. However, although the audience of the book of Hebrews faced temptations to return to Judaism that we don’t face, we face equally powerful temptations that seem to transcend time and geography. Temptations like materialism, self-love (narcissism), love of pleasure (hedonism), or love of religion (true good can come out of the deepest parts of us, from us just by ourselves, and this good should be recognized by others and God).
A large part of the purpose of the book, again, is to warn and exhort Christians (the best examples are 3:12; 4:11; 6:11-2; 10:23-24; and 12:1-3). The warning in the cultural context comes since they will be tempted, via persecution and religious “peer pressure,” to neglect or treat lightly their salvation in Christ alone.
An interesting thing to do when looking at a biblical book is to see how it begins and ends (such as, at the beginning: looking at the first verse, first paragraph, and first chapter or two). The thought here is that authors often reveal more of their focus or themes at these places, and of the two, especially the beginning.
How does the book of Hebrews begin? With the supremacy of Christ. In the first paragraph (1:1-4) we read that Christ is the exact representation of God (i.e., he is God), and is now completely done making purification for sins, now resting in an exalted position with God the Father. Then the rest of chapter 1 is an affirmation of the supremacy of Christ, specifically the supremacy of Christ over angels.
When this chapter is done note how chapter two begins, with 2:1, “for this reason…”
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it (Heb 2:1).
If I say, “our house is old, and for this reason I want to do some improvements,” what I’m really saying is “I want to do improvements,” not “our house is old.” Or maybe they’re both equally important and I really can’t say one without the other. Thus it’s a little hard to say what is most important in the opening two chapters of Hebrews, theology (supremacy of Christ) or exhortation (therefore let us not neglect this). And of course when we have a difficult time determining which is primary, the answer is usually not so much to keep debating the two options but to embrace both, even to see both not as two separate teachings but as two complementary aspects of the same doctrine. Christ is supreme, and this means, in part, that He will persevere, and in part, that true understanding and reception of this prompts our perseverance.
Now let’s look briefly at one verse at the end of the book. At the very end is a key clause in 13:22, “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation.” The author is saying that his purpose (or at least one major purpose) is to exhort. And he is also telling us that they need to “bear” this exhortation, meaning it will not be a light or easy one to receive. Again we see the idea of exhortation, and a heavy exhortation or warning at that, in the book of Hebrews.
The beginning and end bookend a number of warnings in the middle. Many of which are a great appendix to the thoughts of Romans 12 that Ryan brought out last Sunday (Jan 11).
For instance, let us run “with endurance” the race set before us (Heb 12:1), “fixing our eyes on Jesus,” (12:2), who is not just the “author” but the “perfecter” of (as in the one who completes) our faith, and let us “consider” Him who has endured his own persecution, so that we “may not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3).
Further, because God Himself is “faithful” (Heb 10:23), “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (v. 23).
And how might we do this? By (next verse, 10:24), considering “how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” and “not forsaking our own assembling together” but rather, as we come together often, “encouraging one another” (10:25).
“His mercy endureth forever.”
This phrase occurs 41 times in the Old Testament. As it was translated in the early 1600s for what we know as the King James Version, the translation committee must have taken great comfort from this truth. For in the days of King James I (1603-25) the times in England were perilous, and the future quite unknown.
Not much was different from the times in Israel when these words were given by God to His prophets. For when we read these words it is often in a context where Israel is under threat of invasion and exile. The word “mercy” has more the meaning of “steadfast love” (ESV), loyalty, or commitment. Thus the verse is a reminder that, although we are often unfaithful to God, He is always faithful, through all generations, in good times and bad.
Days of the Babylonian threat to Judah, days of the early 17th century, today. Again not that different. As C.S. Lewis so wisely concluded, it is “chronological snobbery” to view our time as more advanced, more moral, or we could add, less uncertain than times past.
We live in days of stock markets diving through floors, basements, and even finding previously unknown catacombs below the basements! We live in days of wars still fought in two other countries. We live in days of sizeable cities like Juarez, Mexico in the hands of criminal elements. Yet God is no more or less faithful to His glory, His purposes, and yes, His people than the times we think of as being more prosperous.
What a joy for us, together, to worship Christ and not commerce during such times!