Fighting Sin

Put to death therefore what is(1)

It is time once again to dig deeper into this past weeks sermon. We saw the great contrast between the two brothers Judah and Joseph. Judah in chapter 38 falls prey to sexual temptation. Joseph on the other hand in chapter 39 flees the sexual temptation that he was under. What I want to do this week is just spend some time discussing temptation, and our fight against sin. How do we obey Colossians 3:5? “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do we: “die to sin and live to righteousness?”

Let me start with temptation. What is temptation? I am going to quote John Owen (1616-1683) quite a bit on this post because he has been so helpful in my own fight against sin. I will update some of the quotes to be plural and may change some of the old English a little bit. Owen defines temptation like this: “Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that…has a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw our minds and hearts from our obedience, which God requires of us, into any sin, in any degree whatever.” So, a point of quick application here. Something that we should probably pray at least at the start of each day is: “Lead me not into temptation.”

So, how are we tempted? James chapter 1 says: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So, during a temptation sin is seeking to entice us. Let me see if I can use a fishing illustration. When we give into a temptation we are in essence biting the hook. The hook is what we will end up with, but during the temptation sin seeks to hide the hook and it seeks to cover the hook with bait. John Owen says that sin will seek to: “possess the mind and affections with the attraction and desirability of sin,…” When this happens it diverts our: “soul from realizing its danger.” Let’s look at a Biblical example of this. Eve in Genesis chapter 3 is being tempted by Satan. In that temptation she sees the hook in verse 3 and tells Satan that God had told them not to “eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden,…lest you die.” Satan undeterred, covers that hook and he as Owen says: “immediately filled her mind with the beauty and usefulness of the fruit, and she quickly forgot her practical concern for the consequences of eating.” 

We are being tempted with the bait of pleasure, on the hook of sin. John Owen wisely tells us since this is the case we need to: ‘Clearly, watch over our affections.’ Let me see if I can try and explain this. Let’s take the sin of gossip. A modern translation of Proverbs 18:8 says: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Matthew Mitchel wrote a small book on gossip and in that book he says that “Choice morsels are tasty things that we want to devour quickly. They are the best, most attractive, most addictive things to eat. They are like a bowl of potato chips left on the kitchen counter.” Mitchel goes on to define sinful gossip like this: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” He continues by saying that: “Bad news, shameful news…is attractive but not good for us. There is something really wrong within us that makes us want to know and to talk about the shameful things that other people do.”

So, let’s say we overhear some shameful news about someone we know. Right away our affections may be drawn to this shameful news, and we may see it as a choice morsel. We leave that setting and we can’t wait to tell the first person we see about this shameful news. This can literally all happen in just seconds. We enter into the temptation, the choice morsel is dangled in front of us, our affections are drawn out and we take the bait. Later though after repeating the shameful news to our friends we will find ourselves with the hook of sin in our mouths. As Matthew Mitchel says: “Gossip tastes great going down, but is has lasting and poisonous effects on our hearts.”

Watching Over Our Affections

When John Owen says that we need to watch over our affections he is just summarizing Proverbs 4:23 which says: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” To help us better fight our sin we need to watch over our hearts will all diligence. John Piper says that when we commit sinful deeds those deeds come from somewhere. They have a life line that leads back to our hearts. He says: “Sinful deeds have a life line that must be cut. In other words, there is a condition of the heart that gives rise to the “deeds of the body.” It’s a heart issue.” When we begin to see a particular sin as desirable and attractive, our affections and life line as Piper says are already heading out of our hearts at that moment. If we don’t cut that life line then, sin is right around the corner. Once again James 1 tells us: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…” 

So, let’s say we gave into sin today. We committed the sin of envy. We took the bait and bit the sinful hook of envy. Well, the first thing we would do would be to repent of this sin. Race to the cross as Jerry always says. A second thing that we can do in this situation would be to examine ourselves and see what lead us to commit this particular sin. So, hypothetically let’s take this sin of envy. Let’s say we committed this sin at 5:00 in the afternoon. It is 10:00 o’clock at night and we have repented of this sin. We go back over the day and start looking for answers in terms of what lead us to commit this sin.

As we look back at the start of our day we realize that we didn’t sleep well the night before. Our lack of sleep lead us to be more susceptible to sin. John Piper discovered in his late 20’s that a lack of sleep caused trouble for him. He said: “I realized for the first time that when I lack sleep I get irritable and impatient, and with enough sleep, I am less irritable and more patient.” Tim Challies is so helpful here in explaining what I am trying to get at with this: “Contemplate the occasions in which this sin breaks out and guard against them…think about the times when you fall into this sin. What are the occasions? What happens right before you sin? What are the habits or patterns that lead to it? Think about these things, know what you do before you actually commit the sin, and stop the downward spiral long before it gets to the point of sinning.” This doesn’t necessarily help us deal with the root of the sin, but it helps us better understand how we were made more susceptible to sin. Doing this will help us obey the words of Jesus when he said: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Matthew Henry says: “we should be much afraid of entering into temptation. To be secured from this, we should watch and pray, and continually look unto the Lord to hold us up that we may be safe.”

Fighting Sin

Part of our fight against sin involves watching over our affections. One of the best ways though to fight sin is the joy of the Lord. As Nehemiah 8 says: “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Matthew Henry powerfully tells us that: “The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” So, one of the things that we need to do every day is to pursue joy in Jesus. George Mueller wisely said: “According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself!”

That is profound wisdom from George Mueller. When our souls are happy in the Lord our mouths are put out of taste for sins pleasures. However, when our joy in the Lord is low we are making ourselves sitting targets for sin. Tim Keller said: “The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” This is why it is so important for us to have our souls happy in the Lord. Plus there is far superior pleasure to be found in Jesus. Michael Reeves said: “Compare Christ to whatever else it is that you treasure. So what is it that you really want? Is it love? Is it that you want to be loved? And that can come across in various ways — a sexual addiction, a desire for fame — those are really varieties of wanting to be loved. Is it acceptance? Is it money? Is it power? Is it comfort? Now compare that thing that you dream of and love with Christ. Which is better? Does pornography offer you the satisfaction, acceptance and love that Jesus does? Does money offer you anything in comparison to the riches of Christ? Does passing temporal power offer you anything in comparison to what Christ is offering? And when you see how much better Christ is than those other things you go running after, you will choose Christ rather than those things and you will walk away from them with freedom.”

In our pursuit of joy in Jesus we need to continually go back to the gospel. John Owen reminds us how important the gospel is in our daily battle with temptation. He writes: “keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world. Joseph (in Genesis 39) had this (sense of God’s love); and therefore, on the first appearance of temptation, he cries out, “How can I do this great evil, and sin against God?” and there is an end of the temptation as to him; it lays not hold of him, but departs. He was furnished with such a ready sense of the love of God as temptation could not stand before,…”

Lastly he says: “store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, with the eternal design of his grace, with a taste of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby,—our adoption, justification, and acceptance with God;…” I hope that we will all be gospel-centered people who fight sin, and who seek to have our souls truly happy in God Himself!

My wife made the picture that I used for this post 🙂

 

 

Dealing With Idolatry

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I am going to go in a slightly different direction this week. Mark dealt with the subject of idolatry quite a bit recently. So, I wanted to spend most of this post just talking about idolatry. Matt Chandler said: “It is easy to see that you and I have been created to worship. We’re flat-out desperate for it. From sports fanaticism to celebrity tabloids to all the other strange sorts of voyeurisms now normative in our culture, we evidence that we were created to look at something beyond ourselves and marvel at it, desire it, like it with zeal, and love it with affection. Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshiping—ascribing worth to—something. If it’s not God, we are engaging in idolatry. But either way, there is no way to turn the worship switch in our hearts off.” Just think about what Chandler is saying: “Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something,…we are always worshiping—ascribing worth to—something.” Our hearts are always oriented around something. John Piper says: “The human heart hates a vacuum. We never merely leave God because we value him little; we always exchange God for what we value more.” This is why we must watch over our hearts as Proverbs 4:23 says: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”

C.J. Mahaney gives us some great questions that we would all do well to consider. These questions may help us expose and deal with idolatry in our lives: “Each of our lives is centered on something. What’s at the center of yours? Think about it for a moment. What’s really the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what’s at the top of your list, second to none? Or let me put it this way: What are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free? Or try this: What is it that defines you? Is it your career? A relationship? Maybe it’s your family, or your ministry. It could be some cause or movement, or some political affiliation. Or perhaps your main thing is a hobby or a talent you have, or even your house and possessions. It could be any number of good things—but when it comes to centering our life, what really qualifies as the one thing God says should be the most important?…”

Jacob’s Idol

We looked at Genesis 29 last Sunday and we saw idolatry on full display in Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. Jacob was idolizing Rachel. Tim Keller says: “Jacob’s life was empty. He never had his father’s love. Now he didn’t even have his mother’s love, and he certainly had no sense of God’s love. He had lost everything—no family, no inheritance, no nothing. And then he saw Rachel, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, the most beautiful woman for miles around, and he said to himself, “If I had her, finally, something would be right in my lousy life. If I had her, life would have meaning. If I had her, it would fix things.” If he found his one true love, life would finally be okay.” Our culture to this day still believes the lie that Jacob was believing. The lie that says that our spouse will give our lives ultimate meaning and significance. Keller says: “And that is what people are doing all over the place. That is what our culture is begging us to do—to load all of the deepest needs of our hearts for significance, security, and transcendence into romance and love, into finding that one true love. That will fix my lousy life!”

An example of our culture promoting this idea that Keller is talking about is found in the movie Jerry Macguire. In that movie Tom Cruise’s character famously says to his girlfriend played by Renee Zellweger: “You complete me!” Scotty Smith says: “There is a problem,…if our primary commitment in life (and in marriage in particular) is to find someone to whom we can speak that memorialized line from the movie Jerry Macguire—”You complete me!” Or in other words, “I believe you are the one who can fill up this deep cavern in my soul!” As Tim Keller says: “If you get married as Jacob did, putting the weight of all your deepest hopes and longings on the person you are marrying, you are going to crush him or her with your expectations. It will distort your life and your spouse’s life in a hundred ways. No person, not even the best one, can give your soul all it needs.” Why is this? Blaise Pascal powerfully gives us the answer: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

Our Idols

So, what are some idols in our own lives? How can we determine what our idols are? Tim Keller helps us when he says: “We have an alternate or counterfeit god if we take anything in creation and begin to ‘bow down’ to it—that is, to love, serve, and derive meaning from it more than from God.”  So, what are we loving, serving, and deriving meaning from currently? 1 John 5:21 says: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1st Corinthians 10:14 says: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” How do we ‘keep ourselves from idols, and how do we flee from idolatry?’ I think the first step that we need to take is to try and discern idolatry in our own hearts. 

John Piper gives several ways that we can discern idolatry in our own hearts: “Great desire for non-great things is a sign that we are beginning to make those things idols.”  “When our enjoyment of something tends to make us not think of God, it is moving toward idolatry.”  He then adds this which is helpful: “But if the enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God, we are being protected from idolatry.” So, during the enjoyment of things like TV shows, movies, food, or sports are we finding ourselves thinking of God less? If so, that is a sign that we may be making an idol of that particular thing. We should ask ourselves often if the ‘enjoyment gives rise to the feeling of gratefulness to God?’

Piper continues his list: “When we find ourselves spending time pursuing an enjoyment, knowing that other things, or people, should be getting our attention, we are moving into idolatry.”  “Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it does not desire that Christ be magnified as supremely desirable through the enjoyment. Enjoying anything but Christ (like his good gifts) runs the inevitable risk of magnifying the gift over the Giver. One evidence that idolatry is not happening is the earnest desire that this not happen.”

“Enjoyment is becoming idolatrous when it is not working a deeper capacity for holy delight. We are sinners still. It is idolatrous to be content with sin. So we desire transformation. Some enjoyments shrink our capacities of holy joy. Others enlarge them. Some go either way, depending on how we think about them. When we don’t care if an enjoyment is making us more holy, we are moving into idolatry.”

Uprooting Our Idols

So, after we have gone through Piper’s questions and we begin to discern some idolatry in our hearts, how do we get rid of those idols? Tim Keller interestingly ties this in with repentance. He says: “repentance is identifying and removing the idols of the heart. Now the reason we’re doing that is because if you don’t understand the idols of the heart, you can still think of repentance as just basically stopping certain kinds of superficial, external behavioral sins.” So, once we identify the idols of our heart, which Keller says that is half the battle, we next need to take that idolatry to the cross.

When we take our idolatry to the cross, Keller warns us against self-pity. He talks about the difference between self-pity and true repentance. “Self-pity and repentance are two different things. I came to a place in my life where I realized 90 percent of what I thought I had been doing as repentance throughout most of my life was really just self-pity. The difference between self-pity and repentance is this: Self-pity is thinking about what a mess your sin got you into…What you’re really doing is saying, “I hate the consequences of this sin,” but you haven’t learned to hate the sin. What is happening is instead of hating the sin, you’re hating the consequences of the sin, and you’re hating yourself for being so stupid. Self-pity leads to continuing to love the sin so it still has power over you but hating yourself. Real repentance is when you say, “What has this sin done to God? What has it cost God? What does God feel about it?…When you see what effect it has had on the loving God who died so you wouldn’t do it, who died for your holiness, when you begin to see that it melts you, and it makes you begin to hate the sin. It begins to lose its attractive power over you. Instead of making you hate yourself, you find you hate it, and so the idol begins to get crushed bit by bit.”

So, we uproot our idols by taking them to the cross. Keller then tells us how to destroy the power of a sin: “The way to destroy the power of a sin in your life is to take it to the cross where, you see, Jesus Christ died so you wouldn’t do it. Jesus Christ died out of a commitment to your holiness. When you see that and realize this sin is an insult to him because it’s putting something as more important than him in your life, yes, that will make you feel bad, but it’s not a pathological kind of bad feeling. Instead, it actually frees you, because instead of making you hate yourself, it makes you say, “I don’t want this. I know what he wants for me. This thing I can do without,” and you’re free. You have to look and see what Jesus has done.”

When we see all that Christ has done for us in giving his life for us, we begin to hate our sin. As we dwell at the cross we will see that Jesus is infinitely more valuable than whatever idol we have pursued. As Beau Hughes says: “The…way we can displace these idols is if we come to see Jesus Christ as infinitely more beautiful, infinitely more valuable, infinitely more hope giving and worthy of our affections than whatever it is right now for you that’s your savior that you’re looking to to give you only what Jesus Christ could do. So it’s only when Jesus Christ becomes the predominant affection of your heart that the other things that your hearts are giving affection and attention to will be uprooted and replaced. So whatever you’ve been looking to for significance, whatever you’ve been trusting in to make you somebody, whoever you’ve been depending on to make life worth living, look away from that this morning and look to Jesus Christ.”

Picture from here

 

 

Genesis 27

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It is time to dive back into the sermon from this past Sunday. Before we get to Genesis though I just wanted to quote some of the song lyrics from the first two songs that we sang as a church. The first song was: Grace Greater Than Our Sin. Here are two lines from that song:

“Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;”

All of us are sinners, and our sin threatens our souls with infinite loss. We deserve nothing but the wrath of God. We deserve God’s wrath for all eternity. That is the ‘infinite loss’ that we deserve. John Bunyan gives us a list of what our sin has done: “Man by sin had shut himself out of an earthly paradise…Man by sin had made himself lighter than vanity,…Man by sin had made himself subject to death;…Man by sin had procured to himself the curse of God;…Man by sin had lost peace with God;…Man should have been mocked of God,…Man should have been scourged in hell;…Man should have been crowned with ignominy and shame…Man should have been pierced with the spear of God’s wrath;…Man should have been rejected of God.” These words from Bunyan help us feel the weight of our sin. They help us feel the weight of the infinite loss that we deserve. As R.C. Sproul reminds us: “No traitor to any king or nation has even approached the wickedness of our treason before God.”

The song that we sang Sunday though goes on and tells us about grace!

“Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.”

The chorus tells us:

“Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

Our sin is great, but God’s grace is ‘greater than all our sin.’ As the second song we sang says, this is: “The scandal of grace You died in my place” So, let me go back to that list from John Bunyan. I am just going to change some of the words to be plural. Bunyan said that: “We by sin shut ourselves out of an earthly paradise.” He goes on to tell us what Jesus has done:  “Jesus Christ left his heavenly paradise to save us.” Next he says: “We by sin have made ourselves lighter than vanity.” However, “Jesus, made himself lower than the angels to redeem us. We by sin have made ourselves subject to death. Jesus Christ lost his life to save us.”

Bunyan continues: “We by sin have procured to ourselves the curse of God.” By our sin we have obtained God’s curse. Incomprehensibly though: “Jesus Christ bore that curse in his own body to save us. We by sin have lost peace with God.” Amazingly: “Jesus Christ also lost peace with God, to the end that man might be saved. We should have been mocked of God.” Christ however, “was mocked of men. We should have been scourged in hell; but, to hinder that, Jesus was scourged on earth. We should have been crowned with ignominy and shame, but, to prevent that, Jesus was crowned with thorns. We should have been pierced with the spear of God’s wrath; but, to prevent that, Jesus was pierced both by God and men.” Lastly, “We should have been rejected of God.” That again is what we deserve, the rejection of God. Astonishingly though: “to prevent our rejection of God, Jesus was forsaken of God, and denied, hated, and rejected of men.” This is the scandal of grace! As Mark said Sunday we are shocked by the wrong things. We should be stunned and shocked by the grace of God! John Bunyan rightly said when talking about the grace of God in Jesus Christ: “Here is grace indeed! Unsearchable riches of grace! Unthought-of riches of grace! Grace to make angels wonder, grace to make sinners happy,…” Let us all be continually stunned by the grace of God in our lives!

Genesis 27

We spent a lot of time in Genesis 27 last Sunday. Genesis 27 tells the story of Isaac getting tricked into blessing Jacob. Mark did a great job of laying this story out to us last Sunday. I would encourage you to give his sermon another listen here. Let me see if I can just give a brief recap of this story. Isaac is old and blind and he calls Esau in and tells him to go out and: “hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” Rebekah overhears this conversation and she goes and tells Jacob her plan: “Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” Jacob fears that his father Isaac will be able to tell the difference between him and Esau because Esau was a ‘hairy’ man and Jacob ‘smooth.’ Rebekah is undeterred by this and she “took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.” 

So, Jacob takes the food, wearing his ridiculous costume of Esau’s clothes and goat skins and heads in to see his father. Jacob proceeds to lie repeatedly and even blasphemes God in verse 20. He eventually receives the blessing from his father. Esau returns soon thereafter and finds out that the blessing is gone and that his brother has deceived his father and stolen his blessing. Esau plans to kill his brother after his father dies, but Rebekah hears of this plan and sends Jacob away to her hometown.

Application

So, how do we apply this passage of scripture to our lives today? Mark mentioned how many Americans today believe in pragmatism. Tim Challies says: “Pragmatism is defined by Webster’s as “the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value.” In short, truth is determined by consequences. Whether something is right or wrong, good or bad is primarily dependent on results.”

Challies goes on to say that: “Pragmatism has reared its ugly head throughout the Christian world. It is found in statements about evangelistic techniques such as “if it only reaches one person it is worth it.” It is found in (a famous pastor’s book), where he writes “Never criticize any method that God is blessing.” He also says “We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present. God tells us to be sensitive to the hang-ups of unbelievers in our services.” These ideas are not Biblical; they are rooted in the perceived consequences.” Mark told the story of another famous pastor who took $250,000 dollars of his churches money and hired a company to buy 11,000 copies of his book during the first week of the books release. The book became a New York Times bestseller and this pastor got to go on national television to speak about Jesus. The means used in this situation did not however justify the ends of being on national television talking about Jesus. Rebekah in Genesis 27 did a similar thing. Matthew Henry says that Rebekah’s end was: “good, for she was directed in this intention by the oracle of God,…God had said it should be so, that the elder should serve the younger and therefore Rebekah resolves it shall be so, and cannot bear to see her husband designing to thwart the oracle of God. But, the means were bad, and no way justifiable.”

Mark challenged us this past Sunday by asking us to examine ourselves to see where we may be cutting corners in this area of our lives. Where has pragmatism crept into our lives? Challies warns us about pragmatism when he says that he is: “convinced that one of the greatest but most subtle spiritual dangers Christians face is pragmatism.” Honestly, I have not spent that much time considering how dangerous and subtle pragmatism is for us as Christians. I am glad that Mark gave us this challenge though last week, to examine ourselves in this area. I began thinking of some questions we can ask ourselves. I came up with a few questions that may not be applicable for us all, but hopefully these questions will help us begin to see how pragmatism may have crept into our lives. For example are we telling small lies or using questionable language with non-believers in an effort to win them to Jesus? Are we driving recklessly in order to make it to church on time? Are we spending lots of time exercising in order to get in shape, but neglecting Bible reading in the process? Are we to quote John Piper: “sacrificing truth and holiness on the altar of what seems to work?” Are we gossiping about a friend when sharing what appears to be a prayer request? Are we exaggerating a story in order to encourage a friend?

Gospel Application

Mark ended his sermon with a gospel application. I don’t know how many times I have read this story in Genesis 27 since I was a kid? Dozens and dozens of times I am sure. Never once had I made the gospel application from Jacob dressed in his brothers clothes. As Mark said Sunday: “We are supposed to go before God our Father dressed in someone else’s clothes also. We are supposed to come wearing the clothing of God’s favorite son Jesus Christ.” We are supposed to come as unworthy as we are, wearing the righteousness of Jesus. We then come before God and are blessed because we are clothed with the perfect spotless righteousness of King Jesus! Tim Keller says: “Have you heard God’s blessing in your inmost being? Are the words, “You are my beloved child, in whom I delight” an endless source of joy and strength? Have you sensed, through the Holy Spirit, God speaking to you? That blessingthe blessing through the Spirit that is ours through Christis what Jacob received, and it is the only remedy against idolatry. Only that blessing makes idols unnecessary.”

Keller reminds us that we can come before God wearing the clothes of Jesus, because Jesus came to earth and wore our sinful clothes on the cross before His Father. He became sin for us. As Charles Spurgeon said: “Jesus wore my dress, nay, rather, he wore my nakedness when he died upon the cross; I wear his robes, the royal robes of the King of kings.” Rebekah in Genesis 27 tells Jacob: “Let your curse be on me, my son…” Tim Keller says that Jesus is the true Rebekah who says to us: “I will take your curse on me, so that you will have the firstborn blessing.”

Genesis 25

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It is time to dig a little deeper into last weeks sermon. We spent most of our time in Genesis 25. I want to spend a little bit of time on verses 19-21 of Genesis 25. Those verses are as follows: “These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”

What we find out in Genesis 25 is that Isaac is 40 years old when he marries Rebekah. When Rebekah gives birth to Jacob and Esau Isaac was 60 years of age. So, for at least 19 years Isaac and Rebekah struggle with barrenness. As Mark said Sunday we need to see the characters of the Bible as real people with real struggles. Put yourself in Isaac and Rebekah’s shoes, and think about not being able to have children for 19 years! This had to have been a tremendous burden for both of them. What does Isaac do with this burden? Verse 21 answers: “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren.” Isaac went to the throne of grace and prayed for his wife there.

We need to start implementing what Isaac did with his burden, and start immediately taking our burdens to the Lord. Philippians 4:6 famously says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Donald Whitney says: “We may bring ‘everything by prayer’ to God. Everything is something we may pray about. Every person, every object, every issue, every circumstance, every fear, every situation—everything in the universe is something we may bring before God.” We can bring everything to the Lord in prayer. Every single thing in our lives we can take to the throne of grace. It doesn’t matter how small the matter may be, even the slightest headache that we have, we can take it to the Lord.

D.A. Carson says: “What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words.” These words from Carson may sting a little bit. They stung me. I have written several blog posts about pouring out our dirty cup of water before the throne of grace. I feel as though I have pretty well hammered this point home, and I feel as though I understand it in my head. However, I feel as though I am so slow to implement this type of praying in my own life. I am just too slow to run to the throne of grace in my own life. I want to change, I want to be more like Isaac and just pour out my burdens to the Lord.

I also want us all to be better at not only taking our burdens to the Lord, but to take our praises and our thanksgivings to the Lord. As Philippians 4 says: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” How often have I let mercies of God just slip through the cracks in my life and have not thanked God for those fresh mercies? This past weekend my wife and I went to go walking at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. In the middle of our walk together I realized that this walk with my wife in the park was a fresh mercy from God that day. I just paused and said a quick prayer to God thanking Him for the chance to enjoy the nice day and the nice walk with my sweet wife. I need to be doing this type of praying so much more. We all have so much to be thankful for. So, let us be quick to run to the throne of grace with grateful hearts full of thanksgiving to our gracious heavenly Father.

Esau

I want to shift gears slightly and talk about Moses and Esau. In Genesis 25 Jacob and Esau are born as twins and they couldn’t be more different. Jacob is the home body and Esau is the outdoorsman. At the end of the chapter Esau has been out in the field and he comes back to the tent exhausted. He then foolishly sells his birthright for a bowl of soup to Jacob. The end of chapter 25 says: “So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” So, after selling his birthright and eating his meal he just ‘rose and went his way.’ He didn’t feel any remorse or sadness that he had sold his birthright. That is why the verse says that he ‘despised his birthright.’ 

R. Kent Hughes says this about Esau: “Young Esau could not see beyond what was in front of him. He possessed no vision, no spiritual imagination. He had no eyes or mind for God, or for Heaven, or for Hell. Spiritual realities were to him dull and opaque. He was a single-dimensional soul. Pleasure now was his guiding star. For him all that mattered was the excitement of the hunt, a hearty meal, a woman’s company—all good things in proper perspective and place. But pleasure is all that Esau could see. Thus he despised his birthright, selling it for a single meal, and likewise he despised his heritage for the pleasure of Canaanite women. Esau’s blithe arrogance brutalized everything precious to life and fixed him on his tragic course.

For every generation, the challenge is the same—to see that there is more to life than a meal, or a video game, or baseball, or a party, or a movie, or an indulgence of some kind—to see, as Paul put it, that “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal”

Mark took us to the book of Hebrews towards the end of the sermon. Hebrews 12 tells us about Esau when it says: “See to it that no…one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” John Piper commenting on this passage says that when Esau ‘sold his birthright for a single meal’ he: “looked down the straight path that leads to life and he saw adversity and hunger, and instead of believing that God was in it and working for his good – as a loving, disciplining Father – he sold it for a single meal and left the race.”

Mark talked about meeting with various guys who have told him that they want to enjoy college first before getting serious with God. They want to just enjoy life first. They want to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, then when they get married they will get close to God. This is an utterly foolish way of thinking. This is foolish because God has not promised any of us another day on this Earth. John Piper powerfully tells us the sad reality that: “many professing Christians today have such a sentimental view of God’s justice that they never feel terror and horror at the thought of being utterly forsaken by God because of their persistence in sin. They have the naïve notion that God’s patience has no end and that they can always return from any length and depth of sin, forgetting that there is a point of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws forever with his convicting power, leaving them never able to repent and be forgiven.

They are like the buzzard who spots a carcass on a piece of ice floating in the river. He lands and begins to eat. He knows it is dangerous because the falls are just ahead. But he looks at his wings and says to himself, “I can fly to safety in an instant.” And he goes on eating. Just before the ice goes over the falls he spreads his wings to fly but his claws are frozen in the ice and there is no escape — neither in this age nor the age to come. The Spirit of holiness has forsaken the arrogant sinner forever.”

Moses

Mark contrasted Moses with Esau in his sermon. Esau foolishly sold his birthright for a single meal. Moses however was different. Hebrews 11 tells us: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” John Piper commenting on this passage says that the writer of Hebrews: “expresses the dangerous, painful path Moses had chosen in two ways: First (in verse 25) it is the choosing of ill-treatment with the people of God over the passing pleasures of sin. Second (in verse 26) it is the choosing of reproach for Christ (the Messiah) over the treasures of Egypt…Now the question was, would he endure in this chosen path of suffering for the people of God and the glory of the Messiah? Or would he cave in – like so many cave in today to the Egypt – the passing pleasures – of this world?” Verse 27 of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us that Moses did not cave in to the passing pleasures of sin: “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” 

Piper says that Moses: “looked to the unseen God to work out some purpose for his people, and forty years later he would discover what that purpose was, and he would be back.” Moses did these things ‘by faith.’ Hebrews tells us that Moses did things by faith over and over. John Piper tells us that: “Faith is a hunger for God that triumphs over our hunger for the pleasures of this world. And so faith unleashes radically God-centered, risk-taking, people-loving behavior.”

He then challenges us to be people of faith: “Let’s be like Moses this morning. Let’s look to the reward of God’s promises, as it says in verse 26. And let’s look to the God who is unseen, as it says in verse 27. And let’s be so hungry for the superior worth of our glorious God that the bridges are burned to a hundred sins and a hundred fears.”

Jesus

Mark powerfully pointed us to Jesus at the end of his sermon. We had seen how Esau gave up his birthright for a single meal. Jesus also gave up his birthright. As Russell Moore said: “Jesus gave up His inheritance and went to the cross for you.” This is the stunning truth of the gospel. Jerry Bridges tells us that: “God delivered the innocent Christ over, as a judge delivers a criminal to punishment, that the prisoners might go free instead. Christ was innocent—until our guilt was made his own. Christ took our sin and punishment; we took his innocence and vindication. The treason and blasphemy charged to Christ by the human tribunal was an emblem of our own treason and blasphemy against God for everything, from our apathy toward him, to thinking we can do God a favor by attending church, to the in-your-face rebellion that we deliberately commit at times.”

Bridges continues by talking about the cross: “The cross was planned from before the foundation of the world as the place where God would inflict his Son with the curse and wrath due redeemed sinners as their sin was charged to him. Behind the visible tribunal and the visible punishment was something infinitely more formidable and severe. What Christ suffered directly at the hand of God is beyond human imagination.”

Lastly Bridges says: “Christ endured much more than the observable agony of torture by the hands of evil men. In the ultimate execution of God’s infinite wrath upon our sin, Christ received inconceivable anguish by the hand of God, an unstoppable surge of torment invisible to our eyes and unfathomable to our imaginations. Yet he did not deserve it; we did.” Let that last line from Jerry Bridges sink in: “Jesus did not deserve it; we did.” Jesus deserved unending joy and fellowship with God, and we deserved the wrath of God and eternal destruction. Jesus, though gave up His inheritance and went to the cross for you and me!

This is the great and glorious news of the gospel. In light of this glorious gospel John Piper reminds us that we: “can’t love Christ too much. You can’t think about him too much or thank him too much or depend upon him too much. All our justification, all our righteousness, is in Christ.

This is the gospel — the good news that our sins are laid on Christ and his righteousness is laid on us, and that this great exchange happens for us not by works but by faith alone.”

Picture from here

 

Blessed In All Things

t-root-system

It is time to dig deeper into the sermon from last Sunday. We looked at Genesis 24. The first verse of Genesis 24 says: “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Mark had us dwell on this one sentence for several minutes: “And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” If you think about Abraham’s life up to this point, you realize how many trials he has gone through. He and his wife Sarah could not have children for many years. This was a great burden for them. Abraham is asked to offer up his son Isaac on the altar. This is another tremendous trial that Abraham walked through. One commentary that I was looking at says: “Abraham had many and severe trials; but even these were blessings in disguise.” Mark reminded us of Romans 8:28 and how we like Abraham have been blessed by the Lord in all things.

Mark challenged us by asking us if we are living joyful lives? Are we living in light of Romans 8:28? Are we living our lives in light of the fact that the Lord has blessed us in all things? Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives us a similar challenge and I quoted this in the preparing for worship post, when he said: “Do you habitually think of your own salvation as the greatest and the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to you? I will ask a yet more serious question: do you give your neighbors the impression that you have found the most magnificent thing in the world?” If I am honest, I have to answer his second question by saying no, I am not giving the impression that I have found the most magnificent thing in the world. I am not living a profoundly joyful life, like I should. I am praying that God will change me and make me more joyful. You may be in the middle of a trial, or a sickness, or recovering from a breakup. You may be wondering in the middle of this trial, how God is blessing you in all things? How is this particular trial a blessing from God?

Blessed by the Lord in all things?

Let me see if I can encourage you, by sharing a personal story about a recent trial I went through. My wife is from the beautiful country of Guatemala and we both got to go visit her family and extended family this past Christmas and New Years. We got to take several trips around the country while we were there. One of those trips we planned to go to a popular water park in Guatemala. It was supposed to be about a 3 hour trip. It turned into about a 7 hour trip because of traffic. During that trip I happened to have a book about John Newton. The book is called ‘Newton on the Christian Life.’ I read a few chapters, but really got to dwell on a chapter called the discipline of trials. In this chapter the author Tony Reinke tells us some ways that God uses trials for our good. Reinke says: “Trials drive Christians to pray. Normally our prayer lives are unimpressive. Sin degenerates the beauty of prayer into a painful chore. The glorious privilege of prayer becomes for us a ‘mere task’ we ignore at the slightest excuse. The chief pleasure of prayer comes in the finishing of it. Instead of enjoying the blessed communion with the Almighty, we are dragged before God like a slave and we run away from prayer like a thief. Or we fall into the trap of mindless praying. We slip into rote prayers when life becomes comfortable.”

So, when life is comfortable our prayer lives are a ‘mere task’ that we often ignore. Reinke says that: “Easy lives weaken our communion with God.” So, what happens when a trial comes upon us? Reinke continues: “Mindless and habitual prayers are never less suited than when the circumstances of our lives crumble around us. Trials breathe new desperationnew lifeinto our prayers. Suffering pours new language into our longings.” He then quotes John Newton who says: “Experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship…Trials give new life to prayer, Trials lay us at his feet, Lay us low and keep us there.” So, trials drive us to our knees, and they breathe new life into our prayers as we are laid low at the throne of grace.

Trials also have the tendency to humble proud hearts. John Newton said that: “It requires much discipline to keep pride down in us,…” Reinke says that: “trials are aimed at setting us free from the shackles of our own self-righteousness and self-importance.” He continues: “If we are to live a holy lifea truly joyful lifewe must learn to live a self-less life. Our grip on self-interest and on the idols of this world that promise security is rarely loosened without the assistance of trials…Trials are redemptive; they redeem us from our pride; they free us from ourselves.”

I don’t have time to dig too deep into this, but I will briefly mention some of the other ways that trials benefit us. Reinke says: “Trials teach us compassion. Trials produce confidence in God.” Trials are ‘love tokens’ to us. “Suffering and affliction are truly among our chief mercies, counterintuitive gifts for the Christian life.” John Newton reminds us that: “Afflictions are either small daily medicines which our Physician and best friend sees that our spiritual maladies require, or they are furnaces to prove and purify our graces;…”

Tim Keller said: “John Newton put it so perfectly. I try to say it every year or so, but that’s probably not enough. Memorize this: ‘Everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withholds.” If it’s in your life, you need it, even if it’s bad. If it’s not in your life, you don’t need it, even though you think you do. Why? Because there is an order to your life. Your Father hates to see brokenness and tragedy, but he is monitoring it. He’s letting it into your life in stages in ways that actually will teach you the things he wants you to learn.”

My Trial

So, back to my trial. While we were stuck in the traffic jam in Guatemala last year, I was reading through that chapter that I quoted at length above on the discipline of trials. Over the next several days of our trip I was often thinking about that chapter and I got to talk to my wife about it. Then we came back to the U.S. and just a few days after getting back I got really sick. I came down with a bacterial infection. I had severe stomach pain for several days, and was basically miserable. I threw up in the middle of the night, couldn’t sleep well because of the pain etc. In the middle of this trial I began thinking about all that I had read in that chapter on trials and I knew that God in His grace had brought this trial to me. I found my prayer life filled with new desperation, and new life. I found myself often at the throne of grace during those few days.

One of the coolest things that happened during my painful experience was that I found myself falling more deeply in love with my sweet wife. I wrote the following on Facebook after it happened: “During all this I have been humbled and amazed at the love of my sweet wife. The doctor recommended only certain types of food for me, so my wife made multiple trips to various grocery stores to get what was needed. She talked with her Mom multiple times and called one of her Aunts late Tuesday when things were not good for me, for tips to help. She researched online into the night and she was just always lovingly there by my side. As Matt Chandler says: “Nothing about you lying on the floor, trying to crawl your way to the toilet to vomit makes your wife go, “I’m glad I married this one.” Do you know what you need in that moment?
On that day where you’re exhausted and just being the worst parts of you,…You need someone who goes, “Yeah, I’ve seen that. It’s ugly, but I love you. I’m not going anywhere.” 

So, if you asked me if I could go back in time and could choose whether or not I would get that sickness or not, I would choose the sickness without hesitation. As John Newton said: “Everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withholds.” God in His grace brought that sickness to me. He used it to humble me, to draw me closer to Jesus. He used it to keep me close to the throne of grace. He used it to remind me of the deep love that my wife has for me, and to remind me of His grace in providing my wife to me.

Living our lives full of joy

I intended to talk mainly about marriage on this post, and I just got derailed a little bit 🙂 Lord willing, I will eventually write on marriage on this blog. I just want to end this post by talking about joy. Are we living a life that is full of joy? If we are not, then why not? Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that: “The difficulty with us is that we are all immersed in the petty problems of life…” We get so consumed by the fact that we are single, or we don’t own a home, or we don’t have the job that we want, or we don’t drive the car that we want and on and on. As Jerry told Mark in his singleness, ‘don’t waste your singleness.’ We need to not waste our apartment rental days, or our night shift job days, or our part time job days, or our summer school days. We need to learn contentment in the here and now. We need to pursue joy in Jesus, no matter what condition we find ourselves in. As Lloyd-Jones says: “I have not truly got the joy of the Lord if it is going to be variable and dependent upon circumstances and accidents and things that may happen to me.  No, I say it is a deep profound, dynamic thing that enables me to stand whatever may be happening to me, whatever may be taking place in the world, because I know Him, because I see Him and because I know that nothing can separate me from Him and from His love.”

Let us all meditate on the gospel every day. Let us saturate our minds in God’s precious Word each day. Let us plead with God at the throne of grace that He would stir up our affections for Him, and let us plead with Him that he would make us more joyful each day as we live our lives in light of His Word and in light of eternity.

I will give the last word on this post to Joni Eareckson Tada who has suffered so much in her life, and yet lives a life full of joy. She was paralyzed in a diving accident at the age of 17. She has spent almost 50 years of her life in a wheelchair. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and went through surgery and 5 years of treatment and is currently cancer free. Here is a short video talking about her cancer that is honestly hard to watch towards the end as you really see her suffering. In the last two paragraphs below Joni talks about her joy and how she wakes up each morning in desperate need of Jesus:

“Basically, I wake up almost every morning in desperate need of Jesus — from those early days when I first got out of the hospital, to over four decades in a wheelchair, it’s still the same. The morning dawns and I realize: “Lord, I don’t have the strength to go on. I have no resources. I can’t ‘do’ another day of quadriplegia, but I can do all things through You who strengthen me. So please give me Your smile for the day; I need You urgently.” This, I have found, is the secret to my joy and contentment. Every morning, my disability — and, most recently, my battle with cancer — forces me to come to the Lord Jesus in empty-handed spiritual poverty. But that’s a good place to be because Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3NIV).

Another anchor is Deuteronomy 31:6, where God tells me, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified [of quadriplegia, chronic pain, or cancer], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV). I’m convinced a believer can endure any amount of suffering as long as he’s convinced that God is with him in it. And we have the Man of Sorrows, the most God-forsaken man who ever lived, so that, in turn, He might say to us, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” God wrote the book on suffering and He called it Jesus. This means God understands. He knows. He’s with me. My diving accident really was an answer to that prayer to be drawn closer to Him.”

Picture from here

The Sovereignty of God

R.C. Maverick Molecules

It is time to dig deeper into last weeks sermon. Mark preached on the weighty topic of God’s sovereignty this past Sunday. What does it mean for God to be sovereign? What does sovereign mean? Christina Fox answers: “To be sovereign means to have supreme power or authority. Kings are considered sovereign rulers over their nation…God is the supreme sovereign because he is Creator and sustainer of all things. He is ruler over the cosmos and over every living thing. “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). What I want to do next is just lay out some verses that pertain to God’s sovereignty.

“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matthew 10:29)

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” Daniel 4:35

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Proverbs 16:33

“For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” Isaiah 14:27

“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.” Jeremiah 14:22

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:16

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” Isaiah 46:8–11

John Piper comments on this last passage from Isaiah 46 and says: “the reason God knows the future is because he plans the future and accomplishes it. The future is the counsel of God being established. The future is the purpose of God being accomplished by God. Then, the next verse, verse 11b, gives a clear confirmation that this is what he means: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” In other words, the reason my predictions come true is because they are my purposes, and because I myself perform them. God is not a fortuneteller, a soothsayer, a mere predictor. He doesn’t have a crystal ball. He knows what’s coming because he plans what’s coming and he performs what he plans. Verse 10b: ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’ He does not form purposes and wonder if someone else will take responsibility to make them happen. “I will accomplish all my purpose.”

Piper continues and give us a definition of the sovereignty of God based on Isaiah 46: “So, based on this text, here’s what I mean by the sovereignty of God: God has the rightful authority, the freedom, the wisdom, and the power to bring about everything that he intends to happen. And therefore, everything he intends to come about does come about. Which means, God plans and governs all things.”

Piper again helpfully summarizes many of the verses I included above when he says: “The roll of the dice, the fall of a bird, the crawl of a worm, the movement of stars, the falling of snow, the blowing of wind, the loss of sight, the suffering of saints, and the death of all — these are included in the word of God: “I will accomplish all my purpose” — from the smallest to the greatest.” Just reading over these verses and thinking about the sovereignty of God, I thought that Psalm 46:10 is a proper response:

“Be still, and know that I am God.
  I will be exalted among the nations,
  I will be exalted in the earth!”

If God Wasn’t Sovereign

What would it mean to your life and my life if God was not sovereign? How would that impact us? If God wasn’t sovereign this would be a deeply troubling reality. How could a God who isn’t sovereign be trusted? Jerry Bridges said: “If God is not sovereign in the decisions and actions of other people as they affect us, then there is a whole major area of our lives where we cannot trust God; where we are left, so to speak, to fend for ourselves.” If God was not sovereign, how could we trust His promises? For example in Jude it says: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling…” If God is not sovereign, how would we be able to trust that he is able to keep us from falling?

How would we be able to face temptations, trials, and the sorrows of life if God was not sovereign? James Boice said: “Temptations and sorrows come to Christians and non-Christians alike. The question is: How shall we meet them? Clearly, if we must face them with no clear certainty that they are controlled by God and are permitted for his good purposes, then they are meaningless and life is a tragedy.”

Jerry Bridges is helpful again here: “If there is a single event in all of the universe that can occur outside of God’s sovereign control then we cannot trust Him. His love may be infinite, but if His power is limited and His purpose can be thwarted, we cannot trust Him. You may entrust to me your most valuable possessions. I may love you and my aim to honor your trust may be sincere, but if I do not have the power or ability to guard your valuables, you cannot truly entrust them to me.”

Thankfully, we serve an incomprehensibly great, sovereign God! We have a sovereign God who is totally trustworthy. As Jerry Bridges said: “we can entrust our most valuable possession to the Lord. In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul said: “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”

Bridges goes on to say that: “No plan can succeed against God. No one can straighten what He makes crooked or make crooked what He has made straight. No emperor, king, supervisor, teacher, or coach can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not first decreed to either make it happen or permit it to happen. No one can say, ‘I will do this or that,’ and have it happen if it is not part of God’s sovereign will. What an encouragement, what a stimulus to trusting God, this aspect of God’s sovereignty should be to us.”

Two Wings of a Plane

Mark reminded us this past Sunday that we should view God’s sovereignty as one wing of a plane. We must not forget the other wing of the plane. The other wing of the plane is that God is also a loving father. Jerry Bridges helpfully put it like this: “God is in control and He loves us.” Those are the two wings of the plane. So, let’s examine this other wing of the plane. Below are some verses that will help us as we consider how God is a loving father.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” -Luke 12:6-7

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”-1 Peter 5:6&7

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” -Hebrews 13:5

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” -Romans 8:28&29

The first passage from Luke 12 Jesus talks about five sparrows being sold for two pennies, and not a single sparrow is forgotten before God. There are probably hundreds of millions of sparrows in the world right now, and not a single one is forgotten before God. Then Jesus tells us that we are of more value than many sparrows and even the hairs of our head are all numbered. This is amazing, that the sovereign God of the universe loves us and even numbers the hairs of our head.

1 Peter 5 tells us to humble ourselves before God, and then tells us to cast all our anxieties on God, because he cares for us. Again this is amazing that the sovereign God of the universe wants us to cast our cares upon Him, because he cares for us!

Then Hebrews 13 tells us to keep ourselves free from the love of money and to be content, because God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Jerry Bridges speaking on this passage a few weeks before he died said that our English translations don’t quite get the forcefulness of the Greek on this passage. He said it is as if God is pounding His fist on a desk and adamantly saying that He will never leave us, He will never forsake us!

Then Romans 8 Paul tells us that for those who love God all things work together for good. So, the sovereign God of the universe is causing all things in our life to work together for our good. This is amazing.

Application

I think we need to continually remind ourselves of the sovereignty of God and the love of God daily. If we are struggling trusting in the sovereignty of God we must remember that the throne of grace is wide open. We can go pour our hearts out before the Lord. In our small group discussion last night I believe Erin mentioned the old hymn that says:

“Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er;
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!”

We can plead with the sovereign God of the universe for more grace to trust Him more fully. We can come before the Lord and just say: “Heavenly Father, I am really struggling with this painful situation in my life. I am hurting. I know in my head that your are working this together for my good, but I am struggling to believe that in my heart. Give me grace Father, to trust you more and more.”

I think we also need to cultivate gratitude in our hearts to God when things are going well in our lives. We can so often forget to be grateful to God during the sunny days of our lives. I remember George Mueller said that he sought to not let any mercy of God go unnoticed. He sought to be thankful for the new mercies of God every day. I have slowly tried to follow George Mueller’s advice. So, I seek to just go to the throne of grace with thankfulness in my heart for all the goodness and mercy God has shown me in my life. So, if you are married, start by simply thanking God for the precious husband or wife that you have. If you have children thank Him for those precious children. If you own a Bible thank Him for access to His precious Word. If you have a job, thank Him for your job. If you get to see a beautiful sunset thank Him for the chance to behold His glory in the sunset. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Paul in Philippians 4 reminds us how we should pray with thanksgiving: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

I hope all of us will begin to cultivate gratitude in our hearts to God daily. I hope we will all begin to trust Him more fully, and will all continually remind ourselves of His sovereignty and His great love for us. We must remember Jesus who has suffered before us. Richard Baxter said: “Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before.”

Lastly, when we see our friends or family members going through suffering, the first words out of our mouths should not be: “You just need to remember Romans 8:28.” Jerry Bridges wisely said: “Above all, we need to be very sensitive about instructing someone else in the sovereignty of God and encouraging that person to trust God when he or she is in the midst of adversity or pain. It is much easier to trust in the sovereignty of God when it is the other person who is hurting. We need to be like Jesus of whom it was said, “A bruised reed he will not break” (Matthew 12:20). Let us not be guilty of breaking a bruised reed (a heavy heart) by insensitive treatment of the heavy doctrine of the sovereignty of God.”

Picture from here

Genesis 18&19

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It it time to once again dive deeper into last weeks sermon. Mark started out last week talking about how we were going to be looking at a difficult passage. We were reminded that no matter how difficult the passage: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I just wanted to start this off by reminding us all just how precious the Bible is. John Piper says: “The very God of the universe speaks on every page into my mind―and your mind. We hear his very words. God himself has multiplied his wondrous deeds and thoughts towards us; none can compare with him!…O, how precious is the Bible. It is the very word of God. In it God speaks in the twenty-first century. This is the very voice of God. By this voice, he speaks with absolute truth and personal force. By this voice, he reveals his all-surpassing beauty. By this voice, he reveals the deepest secrets of our hearts. No voice anywhere anytime can reach as deep or lift as high or carry as far as the voice of God that we hear in the Bible.”

You may have been like me and grown up in a Christian home, where a Bible was always close at hand. To my shame I neglected the Bible until my conversion in my early 20’s. Someone who had a profound impact on me in the early days after my conversion was Jonathan Edwards. What I saw in Edwards was a man who had a thorough knowledge of the Bible. The picture I included at the top of this post is Jonathan Edwards Bible. Edwards said: “What a precious treasure God has committed into our hands in that he has given us the Bible. How little do most persons consider, how much they enjoy, in that they have the possession of that holy book, the Bible, which they have in their hands, and may converse with as they please. What an excellent book is this, and how far exceeding all human writings!” I hope that all of us will treasure this wonderful book, the Bible!

I want to talk about two people briefly before I dive into Genesis 18, and their love for the Bible. The first person is George Mueller who I have mentioned multiple times on this blog. Mueller loved the Bible. I hope his words will encourage us all to treasure the Bible more, whether we have been Christians for 50 years or just 6 months. Mueller, when he was 71 years old gave a talk to younger Christians and talked to them about the Bible. He said: “Now in brotherly love and affection I would give a few hints to my younger fellow-believers as to the way in which to keep up spiritual enjoyment. It is absolutely needful in order that happiness in the Lord may continue, that the Scriptures be regularly read. These are God’s appointed means for the nourishment of the inner man. . . . Consider it, and ponder over it. . . . Especially we should read regularly through the Scriptures, consecutively, and not pick out here and there a chapter…I tell you so affectionately. For the first four years after my conversion I made no progress, because I neglected the Bible. But when I regularly read on through the whole with reference to my own heart and soul, I directly made progress. Then my peace and joy continued more and more. Now I have been doing this for 47 years. I have read through the whole Bible about 100 times and I always find it fresh when I begin again. Thus my peace and joy have increased more and more.”

Mueller lived to be 92, so he continued this same pattern for another 21 years after he gave that talk. I love how after 100 times through the Bible he said “I always find it fresh when I begin again.” The second person I will mention is my Dad. My Dad didn’t grow up in a Christian home and he never really read the Bible. He was converted while he was in the Navy in February 1967. All he had at that time was a little New Testament Bible. He read the entire New Testament cover to cover 7 times in just two weeks after his conversion. He said he just couldn’t get enough of it. He has been a Christian for almost 50 years now and he still can’t get enough of the Bible. He has read the entire Bible at least once every year since 1967. So, this year he is on his 49th trip through the entire Bible. My Dad loves the Bible, and I hope his faithfulness and the faithfulness of George Mueller will inspire us all to treasure and love our Bible’s.

If you are not reading your Bible very often and hearing about George Mueller and my Dad just make you feel discouraged, that was not my intention. However, if you are feeling discouraged I would encourage you just to get a Bible reading plan of some kind. It could be just a chapter a day. Just start with Philippians or another small book and just read a chapter a day. Another thing you could do would be to find a friend and ask them if they would like to read through a small book of the Bible with you for the next week, and then you guys could discuss it as you go.

Genesis 18

In Genesis 18 Abraham is visited by Jesus in preincarnate form, along with two angels. Abraham shows great hospitality to them and gives them bread and meat to eat. Which meat was a delicacy at that time. He also stands by them and waits on them as they eat. Matthew Henry commenting on this passage says that:”Abraham and his wife were both of them very attentive and busy, in accommodating their guests with the best they had. Sarah herself is cook and baker; Abraham runs to fetch the calf, brings out the milk and butter, and thinks it not below him to wait at table, that he might show how heartily welcome his guests were.” In this passage we not only see Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality,  but we also see the condescension and humility of the Lord Jesus. We have a God who condescends and comes near to us. John Gill commenting on Genesis 18 says: “It is great and wonderful condescension for God to commune with a creature.” Jesus says in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Staggering and amazing condescension from the Lord. We have a God who is not only transcendent, but he also comes near to broken sinners and dies in our place.

As I was thinking about the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah and the condescension of the Lord Jesus in this passage I thought I would try and tie both of these together and apply it to us today. Paul tells us in Romans 12:13 that we should: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” John Piper says that: “Romans 12 is a description of how we live when we know and feel the truth that we deserve nothing but misery forever, but instead, because of Christ, we have the promise that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Romans 12 is the way you live when you have been broken because of your sin—when you have said with the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)—and then, after being broken, you have discovered that in Christ God is for you and not against you, and that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor sword can separate you from the love of Christ and from everlasting joy. Romans 12 is how you live when you know this Christ-bought, broken-hearted joy.”

Then Piper says: “This is the way people live who know and feel that moment by moment the sheer, undeserved, lavish mercy of God sustains them and brings them home to glory. I appeal to you by the mercies of God—by the lavish “contribution” of God to your need, by the inexhaustible “hospitality” of God to bring you into his house not as a guest but as an adopted child—I appeal to you by these mercies of God, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” So, we live our lives in light of the gospel and we are compelled to ‘contribute to the needs of the saints’ and we ‘seek to show hospitality.’ We live in light of the ‘inexhaustible “hospitality” of God’ who brings us into his house not as a guest but as an adopted child! Piper then challenges us and says: “giving lavishly and loving guests is near the heart of what it means to walk as a Christian. I appeal to you by the mercies of God, give generously and open your homes to the saints.”

Intercessory Prayer

So, let me jump back into Genesis 18. As Abraham talks with his guests he soon realized that one of them is the Lord. Jesus asked Abraham about his wife Sarah and then he tells him: “At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” Then the Lord tells Abraham that he plans on destroying the wicked city of Sodom and Gomorrah. The two angels take off to Sodom and Gomorrah, but the Lord Jesus stays back. Abraham then approaches the Lord and gives us the first example of intercessory prayer in the Bible. As Mark said Sunday, this is a powerful portion of Scripture. The love of Abraham for Sodom and Gomorrah just oozes out of him. Mark challenged us this Sunday by asking if we are praying for the city of Athens like Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. Are we praying for mass conversions in the city of Athens and the cities around Athens? Are we praying for friends, coworkers, and family members who do not know the Lord? 

Matthew Henry says: “Come and learn from Abraham what compassion we should feel for sinners, and how earnestly we should pray for them.” This text really convicted me of how far short I am falling in this area. John Piper said: “Is not our most painful failure…the inability to weep over the unbelievers in our neighborhoods…” Why don’t we weep over and pray more often for our unconverted friends, coworkers, family members and neighbors in our lives?  One of the reasons why I am not praying as I ought, is because I am not living in light of eternity like I ought to live. John Piper said very powerfully: “that the brief little life that you and I live and that everybody in our churches lives, will issue very quickly into everlasting joy or everlasting pain. This has got to grip us!” Everyone in our churches, everyone at our jobs, everyone we pass on the street, or share the road with on our way to work, every single person in the world is living a brief little life. And our brief little lives are going to issue very quickly into either everlasting joy or everlasting pain. We must feel the weight of that one word, everlasting.

I worked a job in Atlanta soon after my wife and I got married and I worked with a wonderful diverse group of people. There were about 50 of us there. Of that 50, I don’t think there were very many genuine Christians. I didn’t pray for my coworkers like I should have that is for sure, but the times that I felt greater compassion for them and prayed the most for them were the times that I thought about eternity. I remember thinking one day how I could not imagine just one of my coworkers dying and actually going to hell. The reality though was that at least 90% of my coworkers were a heartbeat away from everlasting pain. The few times that I thought about my coworkers actually going to everlasting pain, I would almost break with sadness and compassion for them. It is in those moments that I have felt something of what Paul felt when he said this in Romans 9: “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart…for the sake of my brothers,…” 

Let us live our lives in light of the gospel and eternity. Let us realize that we also at one time were just a heartbeat away from everlasting pain.  Piper again: “I must believe that just as a rock climber, having slipped, hangs over the deadly cliff by his fingertips, so I once hung over hell and was a heartbeat away from eternal torment. I say it slowly, eternal torment! We must realize that the same wrath of God that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 should have also fallen upon us. The cup of God’s wrath that David describes in Psalm 11 should have been our cup: “Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.” This awful cup of fire and brimstone should have been ours to drink, but the Lord Jesus stepped in and took this awful cup and drank it dry. As Jesus drank this cup of God’s wrath it burned ‘itself out in the heart of Jesus.’

Now we get to drink of the cup of God’s love. John Newton said: “Whoever…has tasted of the love of Christ, and has known, by his own experience, the need and the worth of redemption, is enabled, Yea, he is constrained, to love his fellow creatures. He loves them at first sight;…” May we all be more compassionate, hospitable, godly people, who have tasted deeply of the love of Christ.