Thursday, February 11, 2016

Happily Wounded

O Lord Jesus Christ,
draw our hearts to You;
join them together in inseparable love,
that we may abide in You and You in us,
and that the everlasting covenant between us
may stand sure for ever.
Let the fiery darts of Your love pierce through
all our slothful members and inward powers,
that we, being happily wounded,
may so become whole and sound.
Let us have no lover but Yourself alone;
let us seek no joy nor comfort except in You.
Miles Coverdale, 1488-1569 (HT – Trevin Wax,  Marc Cortez)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Biggest Enemy

Who is my biggest enemy? I am. Who is your biggest enemy? - Check out The Enemy Within by Adam McClendon
How do spiritual disciplines help the spiritual life? Up front, it must be admitted that in today’s society anything with the word “discipline” in it sounds unappealing. Nevertheless, historically, spiritual disciplines (such as reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, worship, etc.) have been practiced by the church as a means to reveal sin and grow in godliness.

This post is not about five profound and practical points pontificating the poignant purpose spiritual disciplines serve in proliferating godliness in the believer’s life. Okay, that was ridiculous. No, this post is just an honest assessment of how I’m so easily drawn into sin, my daily struggle against my sinful tendencies, and how basic personal spiritual disciplines help me walk in greater faithfulness and experience greater intimacy with God. So, here goes…
I am my biggest enemy. No really. Day to day, my biggest struggle lies within. Emotions of complacency flow to internal explosions of anger, laziness, lust, impatience, worry, and frustration. Throw in a little envy and voilĂ , a perfect dish of self-pity, self-justification, and self-condemnation all rolled up in one.

As a believer, I still live within a fallen context, and so long as I live in this world, I will have desires that battle for my attention and affection. These desires seek to lure me, like a bass chasing a spinner bait, right into self-fulfilling sin (James 1:14). Sinful thoughts will invade my mind and desires will bring shock and awe to my heart: not because I am inherently evil as a believer, but because I am inherently human and live in a fallen world (that sentence really deserves another post by itself).

The Bible warns that these sinful thoughts and desires will come. 2 Corinthians 10:5 states that I am to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” and Galatians 5:16 commands me as a believer to “walk in the Spirit,” so that I “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The implication is that ungodly thoughts and desires will bombard me. These desires in and of themselves are not sin; rather, it is the entertainment of these thoughts and desires that results in sin.

As a believer when emotions seek to burst forth unrestrained, when sinful thoughts come calling, when fleshly desires dangle their lures, I am to bring them in submission to the will of the Spirit (Gal 5:16). I am to submit to him. This act of the will is critical in walking in obedience.
Unfortunately, too often, I don’t recognize the will of the Spirit and the attacks of the enemy until it is too late. That’s where certain spiritual disciplines help me. Reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture, prayer, confession, fasting, etc. all work together to continue to reveal areas in which I need to live in greater submission to the Spirit. The Lord faithfully uses these disciplines and others to constantly show me a distinction between fleshly desires and godly ones, his will versus competing ones. Thus, I find that God is so faithful in bring passages to mind, fanning the affections of my heart, and guiding my soul to him in the midst of the chaos of life through these basic disciplines.
So, that’s my encouragement and reminder. I don’t “have to” read my Bible every day, I need to. I don’t have to pray, meditate on Scripture, fast, etc., but I need to. I need to seek him, and the spiritual disciplines are means by which God helps train his children to be godly (1 Tim 4:7). Spiritual disciplines then are not something I do to check proudly off my list as if something has been accomplished. No! They are not a cure-all. They are not magic bullets, but they are tools that help bring perspective and balance to life. They steady the ship so that the horizon can be seen and the course can be set. They are means to draw me close to Christ so that I might be ready for the battle ahead and choose to serve him this day versus myself. For, I am my greatest enemy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Overwhelmed

How To Be Overwhelmed Today in A Good Way by Justin Buzzard
Life is hard. Problems are many. The to-do list is long. Curve balls keep coming. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by your circumstances and the load you’re carrying.

OVERWHELM verb (used with object)
1.to overcome completely in mind or feeling.
2.to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush.
Before you know it, you find yourself overwhelmed, your mind and heart can’t seem to do anything other than obsess on the hard and stressful things going on around you. I often find myself in this place. BUT, you and I don’t have to live this way. Instead of being overwhelmed in a bad way, you can be overwhelmed in a good way.
What if instead of being overwhelmed by your problems you were overwhelmed by God: his presence, his bigness, his goodness, his grace and gifts to you?
What if instead of obsessing on your difficulties you obsessed on your graces, all the good things in your life that you don’t deserve?
What if instead of obsessing on what’s going wrong you obsessed on what’s going right?
What if instead of fixating on what makes you frown, you fixate on what makes you and others smile?
Each day is a choice to be overwhelmed in a bad way, or a good way. Each day is a choice to obsess on your problems or obsess on your great God and his great grace. The decisions we make at this daily crossroads will deeply shape our day, will negatively or positively impact those around us, and will determine the type of people we become over time. I want to be a man known for my obsession with God and my joy and hope in him, not my obsession with my problems and pain.
God knows that life in our broken world can be difficult, overwhelming, and full of tough surprises. And God has taught us how to navigate this: To fixate our eyes on him, not the stormy waves around us. May the old words of a man beaten up by life, but rescued by a God/grace-centered perspective on life, guide us:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -Paul, Thessalonians 5:16-18
As we overwhelm ourselves with rest, and faith, and joy, and gratitude in God, we’ll find our problems shrinking in size and in their sway over us diminished. This is the journey of the Christian life: a continual fresh discovering of how God is so much bigger than all of our fears, so much better than all of our worries. You know God’s will for you today: Rejoice, pray, give thanks in all circumstances. Keep your focus here today, and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed in a good way.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

For the Downcast

From William Bridge, A Lifting Up For The Downcast (London, 1961), pages 270-272.  Slightly edited. (HT Peter Cockrell and Ray Ortlund)
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.  Exodus 34:6-7
“Well, you say, but though God is able to help me, I fear that God is not willing to help me, and therefore I am discouraged.  But be of good comfort, says the Lord, for my name is Merciful, and therefore I am willing to help you.
But you say, though the Lord is willing to help me, yet I am a poor unworthy creature and have nothing at all to move God to help me.  Yet be of good comfort, for the Lord says again, My name is Gracious.  I do not show mercy because you are good, but because I am good.
Oh, you say, but I have been sinning a long time, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years.  If I had come to you long ago, I might have had mercy.  But I have been sinning a long time, and therefore I fear there is no mercy for me.  Yet, says the Lord, be of good comfort, for my name is Slow to anger.
Oh, you say, but I have sinned extremely, so many sins that I am never able to reckon up and to humble myself for them, I have broken all my promises to God and all the vows I made to him, and therefore I am discouraged.  Yet, says he, be of good comfort, for I am abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  Are you abundant in sin?  I am abundant in steadfast love.  Have you broken faith with me?  Yet I am abundant in faithfulness also.
Oh, but though the Lord is all this to his chosen ones like David, Abraham and Moses, yet I fear the Lord will not be this to me.  Yes, says the Lord, keeping steadfast love for thousands.  I have not spent all my mercy on David or on Abraham or on Paul or on Peter, but I keep mercy for thousands.
Oh, but my sins still recoil on me.  I am the greatest sinner in the world, for I have sinned all kinds of sin.  I fear there is no hope for me.  Yet, says the Lord, be not discouraged, for I forgive iniquity and transgression and sin, even all kinds of sin.  This is my name forever. 
Oh, but I am afraid to lay hold on this promise, for I think this is a doctrine of license.  Do not say that, says the Lord, who will by no means clear the guilty.  But if there is ever a poor, drooping, fearing, trembling soul that desires to know my name, here, says the Lord, is my name by which I will be known forever.
The name of God quiets the heart against all discouragements.”