Do you ever wake up tired?  Do you feel rested, refreshed, renewed? Or do you always feel the crushing burden of the tyranny of the urgent? Are the “to-do’s” terrors that keep you up at night?

We are a busy people. Between work, school, sports, church, and family activities, there doesn’t even seem to be time to breathe.

The idea of Sabbath rest is nearly lost on us today. I’ve seen how more and more activities are crowding into our day of rest, pulling us away from the quiet and peace of God’s Sabbath rest in Jesus Christ, back into the frenzied fury of the world’s demands. There’s always more to do, more to be, more to accomplish, never any time to simply rest and delight in God.

I recently came across this old (3 years) video of Kevin DeYoung preaching on the Sabbath. This is just an excerpt from his sermon, but he raises some great evaluative questions we should consider for our own lives. I encourage you to watch the video, it’s only 3 minutes long.  I’ve written out the questions below.

  1. Am I using Saturday to prepare for Sunday?
  2. Am I using Sunday to get ahead or get a break?
  3. Is there anything about Monday that feels like you rested on Sunday?
  4. Can others see that this Lord’s Day is a day with unique priorities and special blessings for you and your family?
  5. Do you trust God enough to rest? (This one hit be right between the eyes)

Know the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ – and find your rest in Him!

SDG

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Thoughts from the frozen tundra

It’s cold.

If you put your computer close enough to your ear, you can probably hear the chattering of my teeth. It may sound like the clicking of my keyboard, but its really my teeth – I promise.

Because of the cold, I’ve been spending most of my time rearranging church activities so that we don’t have people coming out in these extreme temperatures (as I write it is currently 2°, with the windchill somewhere near -25°).

Instead of my usual ponderings here on the blog, I’ll drop off some deep thoughts on winter for your warmth and enjoyment.

It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there. The Lord bless all seasons to his people, and help them rightly to behave themselves, under all the times that go over them.

JOHN BUNYAN

Not only does true grace grow best in winter, but winter is the best season for planting grace.… It is not a speculation, it is a personal experience that hundreds here can testify to, that the Bible, the Sabbath, the Supper, all became so many means of grace to them after some great affliction greatly sanctified.

SAMUEL RUTHERFORD

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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His Presence/My Strength

Matthew 28:20 [widescreen]

Have you ever had that experience when you keep seeing the same thing over again, and wonder if maybe someone is trying to tell you something?

For some reason, everything I’ve been reading lately has been coming back around to the fact of God’s presence with His people.

Last weekend I led a Bible study on the life of Gideon. If you’ll remember when the Lord called Gideon to service, God said, “Go in the strength that you have.”  Gideon quickly replies that he is not a mighty man, nor does he come from a strong family; how could he possibly deliver Israel? Then the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16). It was the presence of the Lord that was Gideon’s strength in service.

Again, tonight I led a study on the story of Joshua at the battle of Jericho. Not much of a battle. All Israel was called to do was march around the city for 6 days, and on the 7 day, march around the city 7 times; blowing their trumpets as they marched.  I’m not sure that this tactic has been repeated in battle since.

What then was the source of victory of Israel. It was the presence of the Lord.  As they marched around the city, the ark of the covenant was carried in the midst of the people, reminding them that the Lord was with them with every step. Joshua 6:27 reminds us, “So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land” (Joshua 6:27).

Then I was reading with a church member the passage from Ephesians 6 on the armor of God.  Having already been thinking about the importance of God’s presence, this verse at the beginning of the reading jumped out at me: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

It is in the presence of God in our lives that our strength lies. This is the wonder of Jesus’ promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Finally, I’ll leave you with this from A.W. Tozer that I came across today:

The spiritual giants of old were those who at some time became acutely conscious of the presence of God. They maintained that consciousness for the rest of their lives. How otherwise can the saints and prophets be explained? How otherwise can we account for the amazing power for good they have exercised over countless generations? Is it not that indeed they had become friends of God? Is it not that they walked in conscious communion with the real Presence and addressed their prayers to God with the artless conviction that they were truly addressing Someone actually there? Let me say it again, for certainly it is no secret: we do God more honor in believing what He has said about Himself and coming boldly to His throne of grace than by hiding in a self-conscious humility! Those unlikely men chosen by our Lord as His closest disciples might well have hesitated to claim friendship with Christ. But Jesus said to them, “You are my friends!”

He concluded with the verse: “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence” (Psalm 140:13).

SDG

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What does Christmas Mean?

The author AW Tozer once wrote a powerful article about the meaning of Christmas. Though it was written several decades ago, the words have more impact for today than ever before. Christmas is not about the celebrations, the materialism, the gifts, or even the family time. It is about a Savior! As we approach Christmas Day, may our hearts and minds be fixed upon the truth of God’s Word.

Throughout the Western world we tend to approach Christmas emotionally instead of factually. It is the romance of Christmas that gives it its extraordinary appeal to that relatively small number of persons of the earths population who regularly celebrate it.

So completely are we carried away by the excitement of this midwinter festival that we are apt to forget that its romantic appeal is the least significant thing about it. The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all. A half dozen doctrinally sound carols serve to keep alive the great deep truth of the Incarnation, but aside from these, popular Christmas music is void of any real lasting truth. The English mouse that was not even stirring, the German Tannenbaum so fair and lovely and the American red-nosed reindeer that has nothing to recommend it have pretty well taken over in Christmas poetry and song. These along with merry old St. Nicholas have about displaced Christian theology.

We must not forget that the Church is the custodian of a truth so grave and urgent that its importance can not be overemphasized, and so vast and incomprehensible that even an apostle did not try to explain it; rather it burst forth from him as an astonished exclamation:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 ESV

This is what the Church is trying to say to mankind but her voice these days is thin and weak and scarcely heard amid the commercialized clangor of Silent Night.

It does seem strange that so many persons become excited about Christmas and so few stop to inquire into its meaning; but I suppose this odd phenomenon is quite in harmony with our unfortunate human habit of magnifying trivialities and ignoring matters of greatest import. The same man who will check his tires and consult his road map with utmost care before starting on a journey may travel for a lifetime on the way that knows no return and never once pause to ask whether or not he is headed in the right direction.

The Christmas message, when stripped of its pagan overtones, is relatively simple: God is come to earth in the form of man. Around this one dogma the whole question of meaning revolves. God did come or He did not; He is come or He is not, and the vast accumulation of sentimental notions and romantic practices that go to make up our modern Christmas cannot give evidence on one side or the other.

Christ’s coming to Bethlehem’s manger was in harmony with the primary fact of His secret presence in the world in preincarnate times as the Light that lighteth every man. The sum of the New Testament teaching about this is that Christ’s claims are self-validating and will be rejected only by those who love evil. Whenever Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, a judgment seat is erected and each hearer stands to be judged by his response to the message. His moral responsibility is not to a lesson in religious history but to the divine Person who now confronts him.

Christmas either means more than is popularly supposed or it means nothing.

We had better decide.

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The Evils of Division (part 1)

Over the past several posts, I’ve been giving an overview of Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. Though written in the 17th century, Burroughs’ could easily be addressing the Church today.  The divisions we face have the same causes, and bring the same pain and destruction to our hearts, and to the ministry of the Church, as it did so long ago.  Burroughs thoroughly explores those thoughts, words, and deeds that cause division, then explores the consequences of those divisions, finally turning to the healing cure in the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

We come today to Burroughs chapter on the Evils of Division, which he takes in two sections, 1) The goods they hinder, and 2) The sin they cause.  Today I’ll give a brief overview of the first part, and review the second next week.

The Good Our Divisions Hinder

Each of us has experienced a falling out in the family; whether your immediate family, or the family of faith.  Sin divides – the sins of others, and the sins of our own hearts.  We put our desires, our pride, our pain, before one another, and a chasm is created that pulls at the fabric of our union.

We know the pain of division, but have we ever stopped to consider just how our divisions really affect us?  Here Burroughs lists seven things that our sinful divisions hinder:

  1. The Quiet, Comfort, and Sweetness of our Spirits – “When the bee stings, she leaves her sting behind her, and never gathers honey any more. Men by stinging one another, do not lose their stings, but they lose their honey; they are never likely to have that sweetness in their hearts.” You know the experience, one argument with your spouse, one heated word with a coworker, and you are set on edge for the rest of the day.  I’m reminded of the old saying, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” When we engage in contentions, it is inevitable that we will come way unscathed in spirit.
  2. They Hinder the Freedom of a Man’s Spirit – Contention is a great snare to a man: he wishes he had never meddled with it; he is weary of it: but knows not how to come off fairly.
  3. They Hinder the Sweetness of Christian Communion – Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (Life Together). This sweet communion, this gift from God, quickly become tedious and soured by our divisions and fighting.  What was meant to be a source of joy and blessing has become jarring, embittered, and troubled.
  4. They Hinder our Time – When men are engaged in contentions, they will follow them night and day: whatever business be neglected, to be sure that must not.  Those times when we were to be in prayer to God, we spend trolling on social media, fuming and raging in gossip, plotting in our own thoughts.  So much of our time is wasted on our quarrels; time otherwise spent in building up one another and glorifying God.
  5. They Hinder our Prayers – Matthew 18:19 teaches, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” 1 Peter 3:7 also teaches, “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  Burroughs writes, “Private contentions in families are great hinderances of family prayer: so our public divisions and contentions are the great hindrances of the prayers of Christians in a more public way.”
  6. They Hinder the Use of our Gifts – “Many men have excellent gifts, but they are in such sour, vinegar spirits, that they are of little or no use in church and commonwealth.” In time of division, we we use the gifts God has given at all, it is only to advance our own side of the argument or to serve ourselves.  This is not why God has gifted the Church, and we become useless to ourselves and to others because of it.
  7. They Hinder our Graces – The reason the Church comes across as cold, dead, empty, barren is this: we are not united to one another. “If you untwist a cable, how weak is it in the several parts of it! A threefold cord is not easily broken; but a single one is.” What we need today are holy, humble, gracious souls – whose whole lives were “nothing but a continual exercise of self-denial; who were not only patient, but joyful, under afflictions.”  Instead, we quickly draw lines in the sand, choose sides, and bunker in for the fight with other Christians, and the beauty and glory of our faith are tarnished.

These are the goods that are hindered by our evil divisions.  We see these in our homes, our churches, our denominations, everywhere.  What goods we’ve lost in our divisions!

May we recognize how our divisions are hindering the work of the Church, repent and be healed, that Christ’s grace may be seen working in and through us.

SDG

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If God is Sovereign, why Pray?

This is a question I used to struggle with quite often, and one that I still hear from people now and then.  As we come to understand that God is sovereign, having ordained the end from the beginning, that nothing surprises God but works according to His design, why then do we pray? What good does our prayer do, what purpose does it serve?

There really is no quick and easy answer to the question of, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” Well, there is and there isn’t.

The quick answer is, we pray because God commands us to pray. Throughout Scripture we are told to pray to God and to seek His face. For example:

Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

Philippians 4:6–7 “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 your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 55:6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

The long answer is a bit more involved, but it really comes down to what the purpose of prayer really is.

Prayers aren’t just about asking for healing for those who are sick, or asking God to help us in our times of need. Ultimately, prayer is meant to bring God glory and honor. As we pray to God, we are acknowledging that He is God and we are not. We are acknowledging that He is the one who provides for our every need, even though we work and save and budget and plan. We are submitting ourselves to His will, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is going to be done, praying for it to be done is saying “help me to accept and delight in your will, and to work according to it.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that prayer is, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”

Prayer is a means of communication. We hear God speak to us in Scripture, and we speak to God in prayer (silent, spoken, and even sung prayers). God knows everything about us, but still delights in our coming to Him in prayer, and is honored by it.

I would like to think I know my children pretty well, I’ve known them since before they were born. And I usually know what they want and need long before they do, and even know what they really need when they ask for something they want. Still, I love it when they come to me and want to talk, and ask for their needs to be met. This is, in some way, what prayer is like. Our heavenly Father knows us better than we do ourselves (Matt 6:8), and knows what we need long before we speak it, but God is honored, glorified, when we seek Him in prayer.

Finally, prayer does change things. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). God is sovereign, He has a plan for all things. And God often uses prayer to work out His sovereign plan.

Say you’re praying for a friend to be saved. As you pray regularly for your friend, God will be working in you to make you more willing to share your faith, to invite them to church, to live in such a way that they would see the faith in you. This is one way that prayer changes things.

Prayer also changes our perspective on events. Rather than seeing a crisis as hopeless, prayer allows us to see God’s hand moving in every situation, either to save us mightily, or to give us hope in the midst of suffering.

Ultimately, prayer, as in every means of grace, brings glory to God, the giver of all grace, even as it blesses the one who prays. As we pray, seeking the face of God as the source and fount of every joy and delight, every need and desire, His name is honored, and our spirits are strengthened, “and my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

This is why we pray to our sovereign God.

Grace and peace,

SDG

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A Note for Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving Eve, I thought I’d take a break from the study of Jeremiah Burroughs’ work on the Causes, Evils, and Cures of Divisions in the Church, and offer, instead, a brief word from John Calvin on Gratitude.  This comes from the “Golden Book of the True Christian Life,” which was originally part of Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, and is a wonderfully practical devotion on  basic Christianity.  I share today just a couple of his concluding points as a guide to gratitude in the coming celebrations.

Earthly things are gifts of God.

  • The first principle we should consider is that the use of gifts of God cannot be wrong if they are directed to the same purpose for which the Creator himself has created and destined them. For He has made the earthly blessings for our benefit, and not for our harm.
  • If we study why he has created the various kinds of food, we shall find that it was His intention not only to provide for our needs, but likewise for our pleasure and for our delight. If this were not true, the psalmist would not enumerate among the divine blessings “the wine that makes glad the heart of man, and the oil that makes his face to shine.”
  • Even the natural properties of things sufficiently point out to what purpose and to what extent we are allowed to use them. Should the Lord have attracted our eyes to the beauty of the flowers and our sense of small to pleasant odors, and should it then be sin to drink them in? Has he not made the colors so that one is more wonderful than the other? Has he not made many things worthy of our attention that go far beyond our needs (Ps. 104:15)?

True gratitude will restrain us from abuse.

  • Let us discard, therefore, that inhuman philosophy which would allow us no use of creation unless it is absolutely necessary.  Such a malignant notion deprives us of the lawful enjoyment of God’s kindness. And, it is impossible actually to accept it, until we are robbed of all our senses and reduced to a senseless block. On the other hand, we must with equal zeal fight the lusts of the flesh, for if they are not firmly restrained, they will transgress every bound.
  • If we want to curb our passions we must remember that all things were made focus, with the purpose that we may know and acknowledge their Author. We should praise his kindness toward us in earthly matters by giving Him thanks. But what will become of our thanksgiving if we indulge in dainties or wine in such a way that we are too dull to carry out those duties of devotion or of our business? Where is our acknowledgement of God, if the excesses of our body drive us to the vilest passions and infect our mind with impurity, so that we can no longer distinguish between right and wrong?
  • For many so madly pursue pleasure that their minds become enslaved to it. Many are so delighted with marble, gold, and painting, that they become like statues. The flavor of meats and the sweetness of odors make some people so stupid that they have no longer any appetite for spiritual things. And his holds for the abuse of all other natural matters.  Therefore, it is clear, that the principle of gratitude should curb our desire to abuse the divine blessings.

In short, enjoy the bounty of creation, this is God’s good gift to you. But always keep in mind it is His gift, meant to direct our devotion and gratitude, not to the gift, but to the giver.  Let gratitude keep you from taking God’s gifts for granted, and from overindulging in His gifts.

Have a very blessed Thanksgiving!

SDG

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