Category Archives: Theology

Saul’s Success: Prize or Poison?

Saul was quite the servant-man.

His father’s will was his,

Be it plowing fields or tending herds,

He worked and served with strength and focused will.

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Humility adorned his thoughts,

While he was no one big.

The son of Kish, a no-name youth,

Why should he be a king?

It seemed, to him, quite far from what he’d earned.

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His strength and height were assets

When it came to farmer’s work.

His trust in God’s instructions

Through the prophet was secure.

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The oil didn’t change him,

When anointed as their king.

In fact, God gave His Spirit

As a guide to live within him.

A Spirit who, if followed,

Would empower him with strength –

Strength of will, strength of courage,

Strength of purpose, strength of mind.

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So, what was it in Saul’s life

That led him to a turn –

A turn away from humble strength,

To self-exalting, insecure, and hurtful fits of pride?

How could he go from “who am I?”

to “I know better than God!” ?

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Through God’s pow’r and by design,

Saul had tasted something strong and potent

for the first time:

The prize and poison that is success.

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He looked at his accomplishments

Which God had brought about,

And credited himself instead of,

Giving praise to God.

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In pragmatism’s twisted vines,

He reasoned how to work his plans,

Hoping God would get in line,

And follow him with weak, submitted favor.

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The glory long designed for God

Was robbed, and so God cut the ropes,

And Saul began his long and painful fall.

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Success.

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A poison or a prize?

A tool to use to bring God praise, for sure.

But many more have had a taste

And chosen to exalt its thrills

As god of all their hearts and wills

Instead of living for the God

Who gave success to us, a gift.

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We take the gift, the joy-filled prize

And make it lethal poison when

We make it all of us, not all of Him.

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Lord, when I hear “well done,”

“Good job,” or “I am so impressed.”

May they never overtake,

The promised joy of this one sound:

The sound of your “Well done, my child,”

When I kneel before Your throne.

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Tune my heart to live for

Just those words upon my ears,

Protect me from the snare of pride,

Through all my days and years.

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Wanted: Dead and Alive – Vicarious Life

At 6:00am, he set down his empty coffee mug and his newspaper, grabbed a long sleeved shirt and boots, and headed outside to the barn. It was a short ride on the tractor up to the upper, back fields. As he crested the hill, the sun was just starting to rise. Perfect timing, as usual.

He parked and hopped down. His boots hit the ground with a thud and dust scattered into the already stiff morning breeze.

It was dry. Very dry.

As he walked from the lane out into the rows of his field, the soil changed beneath his feet. Dry dust gave way to rich, dark dirt. The new irrigation system had been working like a charm and the ground the seeds had been planted in was just right in every way. The seeds had everything they needed to grow. They lacked no nutrients; they lacked no water; they lacked no sunshine; they lacked no growing space. Everything had been provided for them. But something was wrong.

The farmer frowned as he crouched down and ran his fingers through the perfect soil.

These were top-of-the-line seeds, purchased at no small cost, and guaranteed a 100% germination rate under these conditions. Even more concerning to him was that the expected time from planting to germination to sprouting should have been a couple of weeks ago already. And yet, nothing. Not a speck of green in any direction.

A month later, representatives from the seed manufacturer were called out to the farm. Under the microscope, the seeds looked incredible. They had all more than tripled in size, and the genetic ingredients they contained should make them capable of producing huge, healthy, fruit-bearing plants. The same seeds were performing incredibly on other nearby farms, already approaching harvest time. But here, they were still seeds.

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If I’m honest, there’s something frustrating about waking up each day like a seed again. The seed, in some senses, is alive. But it has to give up its existence as a seed in order for the potential of plant life to spring out of it. Dying hurts. Dying daily hurts daily.

Reading through the New Testament, it doesn’t take long to realize that God’s design for us involves us growing to accomplish big things for His kingdom. We love this end of the gospel equation. “I can do all things,” we quote, leaving off (or unintentionally deemphasizing) the most important part of the verse – “through Christ, who strengthens me.”

We want the crop. We want the amazing harvest. But we really like our “seedness” and we really dislike dying in order to be replaced by a growing, fruit-bearing plant. Complicating the situation even more is the fact that, yes, we only have to die once positionally, but practically, we need to die daily. Sounds fun, right?

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. (25) Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity” (John 12:24-25 NLT).

I don’t think Christ is only talking about service-oriented martyrdom here. His point is that we must live and work boldly with the value system of a martyr – those whose lives and preferences matter less to them than their cause.

God has been working on me gradually on this issue. Here’s some reminders I need to keep “truth-talking” to myself in order to keep a biblical perspective.

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1) I Am a Seed – There’s nothing I can change about it. I am a seed. Seeds will not, and can not, bear fruit by themselves. Their only option for producing something of value is to die, to give up their seed-life, and let it be replaced by a greater life that will sprout up in its place. Sounds painful, difficult, and eerily reminiscent of something akin to hard work doesn’t it? But don’t forget the privilege here! True, the acorn will never become the oak tree by itself. But, it has been designed to break, die, and give birth to a sapling that will then draw in enough outside resources to build something massive and impressive. What an incredible design. And what an awesome role and responsibility. Christ living vicariously through us doesn’t relegate us to the sidelines. We are still very much involved, active, and responsible.

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2) The Path to Life is Living Death –  My life verse is Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (KJV)

So, based on this verse, am I supposed to think of myself as dead or alive? Both.

We’ve got the alive part down pat. We’ve each got our version of the American dream that we’re chasing after, hoping for a sense of fulfilment. I don’t know about you (though I can guess), but what I need a good dose of most days, is thinking of myself as dead. Not dead like we normally think of death, rather, more of a living death. Take the great transaction – Christ gets our sin and death and defeats it while we get His righteous life undeservedly. Now, put that transaction into an ongoing, daily illustration in your thinking.

You could picture it like this: You died. It’s on your medical records and everything. By every test and standard, you are dead. But then, you (or your dead body I should say) and Jesus Christ are placed on adjacent hospital beds and you get hooked up to a two-way IV system that drains the sin and death out of your spiritual account into His. He is constantly absorbing it and defeating it by His power. And, at the same time, His righteousness and life is being transferred through another line into your veins. After getting hooked up to this gear, you’re alive again, but it’s a life that comes from Him into you. Now you’re free to leave the hospital. Only, because of these IV lines, you’ll have to stay right next to Jesus. And instead of returning to the life you knew, you realize that it’s His life sustaining you. He is living vicariously through you, so He should probably get to call the shots from now on.

“But I don’t feel like a puppet? I still feel like I’m in charge.” Well, in one limited sense, you are.

You have not lost your freedom of will, but you should live as if you have.

If this were truly how we viewed our source of life each day, how might it change us?

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A Shepherd’s Prayer

Dots of white are scattered ‘cross the hillside.

Flocks of souls are grazing as they roam.

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Left of here lie cliffs along the ocean.

Misty winds there keep the grass

A lush and tempting green.

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To our right, the burning Eastern Desert

Lies just in sight beyond the rolling hills.

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To our south, dark jungle-lands,

With swamps, and bogs and ponds.

And northward, see the lands climb up

To jagged rocky heights of mountains cold.

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The sheep have all been gathered here

By shepherds wise and old.

These men have known the dangers

West, and east, south and north.

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Though gathered here, each year

The flock is losing many sheep.

The older shepherds tire

And begin to look to me

And all my kin to take the torch.

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And as I survey out across

The scenery of these moors.

I quickly come to realize,

That I cannot do this task that lies before.

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In my brief, short time of training

As a shepherd/sheep for God,

I’ve seen, heard, and observed,

Some shifting patterns in the flock.

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My calling is to help them feed

On Grass of Truth from God,

Seems simple, and it is.

Simple, yes. But easy? Not.

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Every place I look

There are other tempting grasses,

Grasses I must first resist,

Then lead them on in trust to do the same.

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Some sheep strangely wander

To the Desert of the Right.

They find a curious comfort

In the heat and burning light.

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They go there for the leaders of that place

Are loud and strong.

They talk and shout about pure grass.

But little grass is grown.

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The burden there of growing

Tends to weigh and burden down.

The sheep end up assigned great work

Which sheep were not designed to do.

And never will get done.

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Many sheep are also lost

Along the Cliffs of Left.

The heights are risky, edgy,

And uncertain for the hoof.

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But sheep will brave them merely

For the tasty grass afoot.

Not knowing that the grass is lush

Because the shifting tides and winds and mists –

Which will trap them, get them lost, or worse

Push them to their deaths –

Are the reason for the green.

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Still other sheep,

While not sucumbing to the Left or Right,

Will sneak down from these foothills

To the Southern Jungle’s Night.

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Here, they play their chicken games

With predators and snakes,

Feeding on the thrills and spills,

The Jungle’s lethal stakes.

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It usually isn’t long before

A trap or snare is sprung,

Some poison is consumed,

Or a fatal blow is blown.

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Far too rare is ever seen,

An injured sheep along the path,

Making his repentant, long, return.

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And let us not forget the dangers

Lying to the north.

The Ivory Tower Mountains

Have the strangest of appeals.

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The sheep who leave the flock

To take these long and winding roads,

Often feel that they’ve outgrown

Their need of shepherds on their own.

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They hope to find a higher grass

That, when eaten, thus will grant

A new place of authority,

A higher “sheep-hood” than the rest.

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This strange allure of knowing more,

On scientific heights,

Often decimates the finder’s sense

Of belonging in the flock.

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It is not easy, as a shepherd,

Caring for your sheep,

Knowing all these dangers,

And the pressures that they bring.

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The anchor in the chaos

Is the grass beneath our feet.

While not quite as appealing

As some other dainty treats,

This grass here on the Hills of Grace

Is managed, not by temptors,

But by God, the Lord on High.

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The grass here, takes some work to find,

And tastes of bitter tones by times.

It lacks the pleasant, sugar coating

Many sheep now crave and hope to find.

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But, tasting as it does by times,

The grass here is the Truth of Life,

It’s loaded up with vitamins,

And healthy stuff inside.

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And comforting to me,

One called to watch over this flock,

To make sure that they feed and grow,

To keep them safe and strong,

Is that this grass is guaranteed,

A covenant confirms its seed

And it will never fail.

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There will never, ever be a need

To wander south, north, west or east,

In search of better, surer feed.

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So while I rightly bear the weight

Of shepherding a flock,

The weight is never solely mine,

For Christ still Shepherds me,

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Promised in this grass we eat,

Is health, and life, and joy and peace.

On grace and mercy now we feast,

With need of nothing else.

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So my prayer is simply this,

As sheep and shepherd both,

Follow Christ as I do,

Though, imperfectly at best;

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Trust in Him to meet our needs,

And stay here with the flock;

Feed and grow together,

On these rolling Hills of Grace.

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A God of New Beginnings, Or a God of One Design?

Here’s a thought to dwell on:

What goes inside your head

When it’s time to start over?

What’s the part you tend to dread

And what’s the part you long for?

See,

There’s the “fresh start” side of things,

You get to try again.

And sometimes there’s the failure side,

That needs to be made right.

“Depends on the circumstance.”

“Depends on the season.”

“Depends on chance,” we muse.

“Depends on the reasons.”

By times we love a new, clean slate,

A chance to build again.

But other times we face the loss

Of all we’d worked to gain.

This is how the nature

Of a new beginning comes.

Some are bright and happy things,

While others weigh a ton.

Now bring the Bible into play.

Consider all it’s truth.

From the days of Noah

Saul and David, Ezra, Ruth.

Has God Himself begun anew,

Or tried a different plan?

Does God go back to drawing boards

To scheme, then try again?

Yes, He started fresh with cleansing floods

And Noah’s sons.

He hit the reset button

More than once in ancient times.

He told a generation

Who were stiff-necked, proud, and scared

That He would start again with all

Their children’s age instead.

He pulled the kingdom promise

From the line of Saul the proud,

And started over with a shepherd

with a heart of love.

But carefully I ponder all these

“Cleanings of the slate.”

In one sense, yes, He started fresh,

But does God make mistakes?

These “restarts” are all linked

To one great, grand design.

A plan that God will not abandon

Not for all of time.

So,

In that sense He never quits

Would never start again.

He promised us a Serpent Crushing

Seed to right our wrongs.

But,

He’s promised to restore all things

to Eden’s sinless rest,

So in another sense

The whole design is starting fresh.

But He didn’t fail, He can’t be blamed

Adam chose to sin.

And we, in Adam, fell away

From all His perfect plans.

All of scripture’s history

Can be described this way,

God, in mercy great is moving

To restore all things,

To start afresh,

To put things back,

A new beginning, free,

Which Christ secured for you and me

For all eternity.

So, as you stand upon the threshold

Of a New Year’s door,

this new beginning Christ has made

should drive your thoughts and goals.

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Reckon

In His Word, the Bible,

God has given us a glimpse,

We see now through a veil,

but we still can see the hints.

And hear the whispers spoken

of what’s coming.

To the suf’fring Roman church

Paul wrote to build their strength.

To firmly anchor down their hope

He urged them to do this…

To reckon –

A term that comes from counting,

or from running through the math.

So run the numbers to their end,

and calculate the facts,

take stock of all your inventory,

see where things are at.

Place on one side of these

scales of comparison

all of your struggles,

heartaches and failures,

The heavy stuff of life

in the stressful here and now,

the dirt, the pain, the struggles long

through which our hearts must plough.

Before we count the other side,

Paul wrote another note,

a letter to Colossae

with a sister vein of thought.

He taught them to direct their minds

up from the muck of life,

to set their hearts on things above

and value knowing Christ.

Speaking of which, it was Christ himself

who told us, “seek ye first.”

Seek the treasures of that kingdom,

not the joys of earth.

So on the other side,

on these scales that measure worth,

should we place the glories of the Heavens,

all the joy and mirth,

streets of gold, and mansions,

life eternal without sin,

a city filled with peace and grace

for time without an end?

“But just a minute.

Something doesn’t seem to sit quite right.

I thought these things – the joy,

the peace from trials, were the birthright.

I thought the worth of things above

was the things above.

Why ask if they should don the scales?

Would they not measure up?”

The simplest answer is a ‘yes.’

They’d surely outperform.

The scales would tip decisively,

But that is not the problem.

The problem is that in this counting

measurements of worth,

the source of value has not yet

been factored or brought forth.

Each one of Heaven’s joys

has value without measured price.

That value, though, is not intrinsic,

all their source of worth is Christ!

If we could somehow know the wealth of Heaven

without Christ,

the value in our treasure gained

would fully be deceased.

Our peace will come from knowing Him,

the perfect Prince of Peace.

He will be our joy

He will be our hope

And He will be our light, our wealth, our song!

So, tip the scales! Rejoice,

despite the heaviness of life.

Reckon.

Take an inventory.

You own, right now,

a treasure beyond worth in Jesus Christ!

One second’s worth of peeking

at the glory of His face,

will “all the toils of life repay,”

and “sorrows all erase.”

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Sanctification: Ditches, Tugs, and Work

 

After a string of busy days, yesterday I took a rest day. A lazy day. An R & R day. I spent most of the day on the couch. It was great. But there’s lots to be done this week, and now that I’m rested and refreshed, it’s back to work. Which got me thinking…

 

tug of war“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Phil. 2:12-13 NLT) [emphasis added].

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You’ve seen a tug of war. And, if you’re like me, there have been times when you’ve felt like the rope. Living these two verses can be like walking down a pathway with deep ditches on either side of you, and these ditches are alive and are trying to pull you in. The only way to walk forward is to keep a careful footing in the center, and to resist the constant tug of war.

If you were to summarize verses 12 and 13 of Philippians chapter 2, it might read something like this: “Work hard to grow in the faith. But God is the one working in you to do, and to want to do, His will.” Or, even shorter, it could read: “Work hard, but it is God working in you so that you can and will.” 

I love these two verses because they seem to sum up the tug of war that I’ve been waging in my mind for a very long time. It’s a subtle battle sometimes, but the tension can often throw me off my focus on growing spiritually and serving Christ. And there’s two deep, muddy ditches on either side of the pathway. Ditch 1 is trying hard to grow for God. And ditch 2 is letting go and letting God take control of my life. Sound like phrases you’ve heard before? Probably.

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So, who does the work in my sanctification? Verse 12 is clear, I need to get busy, set goals, and be intentional in my Christian growth. Throughout the new testament we learn that if we are not working at our christian growth it is most likely evidence that we’ve not been converted. Someone who has been given a gift so great as salvation will respond to that gift in practical gratitude. Romans 12:10-11 says, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.

But Phil. 2:13 puts this all into proper perspective – it is only God who can create any lasting change in my desires and actions. Just as He brought me to spiritual life, He must bring me to spiritual growth. So the answer to the question above, really, is both! We are commanded to work at it, and we will be held responsible if we don’t, but only God can get it done.

You’re in ditch 1 if your efforts are active but independent, and intended to be a gift to (or even a response to) God.

You’re in ditch 2 if you have a heart/mindset of dependency, but you’re passive and not doing anything.

I’ve spent lots of time in both ditches.

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The solution here is quite simple. Work hard to grow, but know that when the growth does come, God is doing it. But what does that look like?

God does not want you to be an instant “super Christian.” He does not intend for you to be completely holy as he is holy – by tomorrow. (Maybe read that last sentence again.) Don’t get me wrong, His standard is still perfect holiness – without which you could never be His child or enter His heaven. And Phil. 1:6 tells us that He has you on that track and will complete that work in you. And yet, He has given us perfect righteousness in Christ already. We own it now. Present tense. But we’re not living perfectly righteous lives.

Catch the tension? He has designed a process (theologians call it “progressive sanctification”) whereby we gradually grow into what we already are positionally in Christ. This truth helps keep us from getting on the cycle of unrealistic goals – reaching for complete perfection, then crashing down into the cold mud of reality, again and again.

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But thinking this way could easily lend itself to laziness. Considering all we’ve said about the work of Christian growth thus far, consider the following verses:

Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed…” (II Tim. 2:15)

“But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames” (I Cor. 3:13-15).

I don’t have space here to discuss the relationship between our work in this life and God’s approval of us, or of our rewards in glory. Perhaps another post is warranted. But, in support of the point here, these verses clearly demonstrate that the Christian’s life must involve hard work.

I saw this tweet by Tim Challies yesterday: “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period.

If God, by grace, took us to 48-hour, super-saint-hood in our spiritual maturity , we would almost certainly become self-exalting. The purpose for the process is His glory. So embrace it.

Embrace it with realistic goals and long-term expectations of growth by His grace at work in you.

Embrace it with a dissatisfaction for how you’re living now.

Embrace it with passionate effort.

Embrace it as a means to His glory, not your goals.

Embrace it as His perfect work in, and over, and through your hard work.


Worship: Think, Feel, or Sing?

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!

Worship the Lord with gladness.

Come before him, singing with joy.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!

He made us, and we are his.

We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:1-3)

Do a google image search for “worship.” Then do one for “traditional worship.” The results are interesting. The first turns up images with blatant emotion. The second…well… not so much.

We often think of the Psalms as the biblical core of expressions of worship. And that opinion is not without merit.

But on the flip side, we rarely think of the Pentateuch as a hotbed for passages regarding worship. Nor the prophets. Nor the epistles. But are these portions of scripture not intensely committed to the topic?

Read this:

“On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will WORSHIP there, and then WE will come right back.”” (Gen 22:4-5) [emphasis mine].

Is that the kind of “worship service” you’d like to participate in? If we’re honest, no. Not in Isaac’s place, or in Abraham’s place.

My theory is that we think this way because we associate worship with feelings disproportionately. Even the groups of people I’ve known who are very reserved in their feelings during corporate worship would still admit this about their approach to scripture. The emotion-saturated Psalms are more focused on the concept of worship than the narrative stories and law passages found in Genesis-Deuteronomy. Right? Wrong.

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So what am I getting at?

Take a quick definition of worship and hold on to it while you mentally survey your way through scripture from Creation to the Cross. This exercise confronts us with the overall biblical picture of what worship involves. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve been considering as a result of doing this:

Worship was perfect, direct, relational, conversational, intentional, delightful, and central before sin.

Obviously, sin changed everything.

Perfect worship like they had would now be the elusive goal, the light at the end of a long, long tunnel carried in the hands of a Serpent-Crusher Messiah.

Worship necessarily became inseparable from trust in, and obedience to, this overall plan for our rescue by a coming Redeemer. Worship and faith and obedience cannot be separated.

Worship became significantly intertwined with somber, gruesome, yet necessary teaching symbols designed to make the participant think long and hard about his sin and his need for a Saving Lamb. We think of Old Testament worship primarily as dancing, clapping, singing, cymbals, and sackbuts (those of you raised on, or using the KJV will get that one). But what about the entire sacrificial system? Was that somehow less associated with worship than the Jewish festivals and Psalms? No. Worship was bloody and somber by times. Why? To keep them thinking about the costs of sin and their need for a Messiah. Worship and thinking, even somber thinking, cannot be separated.

Worship, no matter how joyful and triumphant, was consistently rejected by God when the hearts of His people were not sincere in their repentance from sin. Our natural gear is self-exaltation and self-worship, which doesn’t jive well with exalting God’s exclusive worthiness for praise (pun intended). Because that is the natural mode of our hearts, it takes effort to approach God in humility and brokenness. Any trace of self-exaltation renders worship non-worship. Worship and a broken and contrite heart cannot be separated.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

Worship consistently bore two great realities as its driving fuel. Both of these realities, when meditated on (there’s the thinking aspect again), drive the worshipper to an emotional expression of praise (whether Moses and Miriam after the Red Sea crossing, or David after his sin with Bathsheba). The first reality seen throughout scripture is the sinful worshipper’s unworthiness to receive anything good from a just God. The second reality is God’s stubbornly loving intention to pour out that goodness anyways through the mediation of the Messiah, offering us mercy and pardon and hope! When dealing with truths of this significance – literally a matter of life or death for us – worship cannot be separated from emotion and feelings.

A note here: Joy-filled, emotional times of worship without an emphasis on thinking about truth, and especially without an effort to acknowledge our sinfulness or to repent, are not truly times of worship at all. To disappear into emotions and to leave your thoughts behind is to leave worship behind. You may leave the service feeling encouraged, lifted up, and ready to face your work week, but you haven’t truly worshipped.

On the other hand, is it possible for you to truly grasp these truths, their significance and their personal impact, and not be moved emotionally in some way?

Worship is not merely thinking about a truth(s).

Worship is not merely feeling something.

It is thinking about a truth’s impact on you and responding appropriately to God about how you feel about that impact.

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worship-traditional

worship-emotional

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Have you ever heard it said that we should focus less on what we get from God (ie. what He does FOR us) and put more of our worship and prayer energy into praising Him for who He is?

I get that. I understand the goal. We truly do tend to come to God in prayer with a wishlist and spend the majority of our time asking for what we need rather than praising Him for His attributes. Our prayer life is naturally self-serving rather than God-exalting. And so, in a way, that problem needs to be addressed.

But I’m not fully comfortable with where that admonition could take us. And here’s why:

The reason God has revealed Himself to us (all of His attributes, names, and nature) is because He is intimately engaged in the outcome of our eternal destiny. He wants us to know Him. And knowing Him is – in every sense – the greatest benefit we could ever pursue. Everything He is relates to everything He is doing. Character and actions cannot be separated. He does what He does because He is who He is. And what He is doing has an automatic impact on us. In other words, it is impossible to praise Him for who He is without knowing that we will benefit as a result. But that’s okay. In fact, that’s exactly how it should be!

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Maybe it’s my conservative background, or maybe it’s my non-emotive German side, but when I see times of worship where the participants slip into heightened levels of feeling and seem to almost get lost in something like a trance, I must admit that I’m tempted to tap them on the shoulder, interrupt them, and ask, “Hey man, what’cha thinkin’ about?” Sometimes I think that I would “catch” them in wandering thoughts, or in no thoughts at all. If someone is overwhelmed by emotion in their worship and no one knows why – including them, something’s not right.

But, to be fair, I’ve seen emotional expressions of worship that were very clearly connected to a truth being discussed or sung about. The truth, and its importance, was the fuel behind the emotion, and it had a God-ordained, powerful impact on those involved. Sometimes that happens for an individual and no one else knows what’s going on in their heart except them and God. This happened a lot for me after I lost my first wife, Heather. My awareness of the value of certain aspects of the gospel was greatly heightened. And sometimes it’s corporate. But the truth-to-feelings link is present.

In some services, people are genuinely moved by the incredible truths being sung about. The music is well-written, well-played, and it supports the expression of the doctrines of the incredible gospel of Christ, and they want to express what they are thinking – with feelings – to their God and Savior. But they feel they can’t because of the expectations of those around them. Any overt expression of feelings comes with glances and silent assumptions of the expressive person’s motives.

Worship without thinking isn’t worship. It’s feelings.

But, worship without feelings (joy or sorrow, doesn’t matter) is most likely not personally engaged or invested in the truths being thought about, and therefore, isn’t truly worship either.

Chew on it. Personalize it. And maybe even make some changes. I’ve had to change some of my attitudes. But this is important. After all, worship is why we exist. Isn’t it?


There Must be Fear in Love

A problem now resides within my mind,

A tension of the most perplexing kind,

I’m quite aware that one thing should be so,

But instead, another way is how things tend to go.

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Wisdom, fear, and knowledge play their parts

In each believer’s mind and will and heart.

When measuring my inventory’s scales

My emphasis on one of these is sadly, starkly pale.

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Knowledge is essential, without doubt.

You can’t apply what’s not been learned about.

And how successful would it be to do

Something, about which, you had no clue?

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Wisdom then steps in and saves the day,

Molding newfound knowledge into what we do and say.

But even wisdom doesn’t round the whole,

For doing what we know to do

Can still be dry and cold.

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This is where I find the gaping hole

When taking stock of life, and heart, and soul.

We know so much of God’s amazing Word,

We think, “If we could only act on

All we’ve learned and heard.”

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But is this aspiration quite enough?

Is this the Christian life we’re dreaming of?

One that aims at wisdom’s lofty goal,

Of constantly and faithfully applying what we know?

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Here Solomon would like to interject.

His writings bind a three-fold cord

That tightly intersects.

The most important aspect of our lives

Is the motive or the fuel that moves and drives.

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The fear of God,” he says, “is where it starts.”

There is no higher motive

For the motion of our hearts.

To fear God is to see Him as He is,

And bend the knee before Him

Humbly praising with our lips.

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So, do we value knowledge? Yes.

And yes, we must apply

All the nuggets that we’re gleaning

From the Bible’s wealthy mines.

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But as you take a counting

Of the status of your days,

Do you truly fear the Potentate,

The One, on whom the seraphim

Do not attempt to gaze?

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Fear has lost its muscle,

Since we’ve tried to make it mean

Merely praise or adoration,

Something light, and nice, and clean.

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But if you looked up from these words,

Were lifted through the skies,

Were taken from this realm

And through the veil of paradise,

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If you were taken to that place,

To stand before His throne,

It would be as dangerous

As walking on the sun.

And the searing heat of holiness

Would show you you’re unclean,

And you’re undone.

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You could not stand,

And certainly would not attempt to speak!

In fear you’d fall down on your face,

As low as low can be.

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You’d quickly know then, all at once,

The span of difference vast,

Between His glory and your own

And fear you’d learn at last!

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Fear – this thing that puzzles us –

Should not be all that strange.

But in our fallen, sin-filled world,

Fear comes with a tinge.

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It’s hard to see the beauty

In our fearing Whom we love.

We see these two as juxtaposed,

“There is no fear in love.”

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In any other contact of our hearts

This would be true.

To be afraid of one, would make it

difficult to love.

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Yet, with our Lord, and with our sturdy

Confidence by grace,

“There is no fear,” means hope is sure,

His love will keep us safe.

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But if you say, “In loving God –

And in His loving us –

fear should never play a part.”

Then sadly, this you’ve missed:

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Only t’ward our God –

The Mighty Maker of all things,

Must fear and love be mingled

in so pure and right a mix.

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Loving God – the heart’s response

to seeing His good grace.

Fearing God – the heart’s response

when holy pow’r is faced.

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Both are healthy, needful,

Both are integral and right.

To have no fear t’ward such a God

As this, would be but pride.

And pride, more so than any trait,

Will squander love’s bright flame.

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So fear Him, bow and tremble

At the thought of His pure face.

But also, rest securely

In His love’s amazing grace.

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Daily: Thoughts on Sanctification

Daily

Daily

(Thoughts on Sanctification)

~ by Kevin Burrill

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Daily I must face the task

Of returning to a place

I never left.

This place has no coordinates,

No, “You are here,”

On the map.

It’s a place that travels with me,

A place that – thankfully –

I can’t escape.

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Daily I am on the move,

A journey strange that’s different

From the rest.

This journey is a call to go,

Yet, also, it’s a call to

Firmly stay.

It’s a trip who’s only ending

Is a place that I will never

Fully find.

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Daily I must climb the cliffs,

Which I have learned I’m powerless

To climb.

It’s a face without a foothold

For a man to map

his climb on,

A cold, high rock

to fall from.

Yet, my fate is at the top and not

The bottom.

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What is this place I can’t escape,

Or ever seem to find?

What is this drive to go and stay,

To do two things at the same time?

What is this rock I cling to

And feel compelled to climb?

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This is Christ.

This is His likeness,

And His grace.

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Daily I am found in Christ,

And yet, I seek to follow

In His steps.

His grace – the grace that keeps me here –

Drives me on to find Him

To new depths.

And so I’m here already

While I’m seeking still

to find Him.

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Daily I am called to go,

To learn and share with others

As I grow.

But how to journey out from here

When chains of God’s great power

Keep my soul?

What does it mean to hear the call to go

And heed the warning, “stay”?

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The call to journey is not “out,” but “in.”

My Anchor – the location where the trail begins,

To chart the channels of the Rock of Life,

And map out His perfections with more light.

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Daily I’m compelled to climb

This cliff of sanctification,

Steep and high.

Fear of falling, risk of pain –

Not much motivation

For the climb.

Only truth can drive me on,

The truth that comes by grace,

That all my efforts are in vain,

Yet I will

win the race.

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Every time I try, and slip,

And call to God for help,

I’m lifted to a higher ledge

I’d not have reached myself.

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Some would set up camp,

Content to make this ledge their home.

It’s higher than they’d hope to gain,

So why risk falling

Down again?

Forgetting it was Him, not them,

Concerned He might not do it again.

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This is a puzzle, to be sure,

One on which I mull and pour:

We cannot win the top alone,

God will fuel our growth alone,

And in this life, the task will

Not be done.

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It sounds like vict’ry and defeat.

We cannot move our hearts,

Only our feet.

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The “It is Finished!” here applies,

‘Tis here that God will open

up our eyes.

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We work and climb and toil and strain

We passionately seek to gain

The next ground.

Yet not because we hope to win,

Or for our trying get rewarded with

The vict’ry then.

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As odd as it might seem to some

We climb, because we’ve already

Won the top!

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Daily I must come again to this – that never left –

The truth that all I have in Christ is

Already not yet.

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With every reaching effort of my strength

That’s doomed to fall,

Grace is put out on display

And Christ is shown as All.

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So why should we both go and stay,

And seek what we now own?

Why should we explore and climb

And risk and toil on?

Why do we need more of Christ

If all of Him we hold

Already now?

Why study hard, and then apply

His Word that feels so old and stale

By times?

To show to all that what we hold by grace

Has priceless worth!

To say to God – who gave this gift –

A “thank you” beyond words!

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Every time we try in vain

and He steps in to intervene

In unconditioned love,

The gospel is unpacked to see

and daily grace is manifest as

Hearts are moved to

Praise their Maker-King!

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So daily we must try,

Daily we should work,

Daily we must risk the climb,

To let Him show through us what He can do.


Book Review: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller

In his mini-book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller managed to kick me in the spiritual guts, and I needed it.

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If you know anything about me, you know that I analyze absolutely everything. I critique everything I see, hear, taste, experience, etc. When someone says something, I wonder what they are really saying. When I say something, I wonder what I’m really saying. And while perceptiveness and heightened observational and analytical skills can be an asset from time to time, they certainly create a complicated dynamic in the mix of a sinner being sanctified by God’s Holy Spirit. I have consistently been counseled about my negativity from those who know me best and care for me most. I am constantly deciding if something “measures up.” I’ve struggled with leading confidently because I spend so much time questioning my own motives. And I’ve known that this has been a major hurdle in my christian growth for some time, because in all honesty, the observations are being used to connect everything to me in pride. So when I saw the title of this book last month while perusing Amazon for some good Christmas gift ideas, I knew I needed to read it and be challenged by it. Imagine the fresh air of living in a space without thoughts about yourself – free to focus on God, others, and other things without connecting them to me!

Keller starts his readers off with I Corinthians 3:21-4:7, where Paul says, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent [justified]. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes…” (4:2-5).

The Corinthians were great examples of how every human ego functions. Instead of celebrating the influences of great leaders in their church (Paul, Apollos, Peter), they were using their connections to these men as a means of self-promotion. They were trying to fill a void in their egos that cannot be filled by any human means. They had put themselves on trial, deciding they didn’t measure up to a self-invented standard, and were trying to exalt their standing in any way they could.

After examining the Corinthian’s error, Keller then applies this pattern of thinking to our own lives. How often do we connect an event, a conversation, a relationship back to ourselves and wonder how we measure up? We enter a room and wonder what people think of us. We meet a new face and measure them while wondering what their opinion of us is. We crumble under the weight of what should be insignificant criticism.  We set goals and make them our measuring stick, only feeling satisfied once they are achieved. We are kind to others, faithful to attend church, careful to live a good Christian life, disciplined, and hard-working but it all ends up being about whether or not we measure up to some line in our own minds.

After examining some of our culture’s answers to the void (the feeling we don’t measure up), Keller then turns to the one permanent solution offered in scripture.

“How did Paul get this blessed self-forgetfulness? He does tell us – but we have to look carefully….he says, ‘my conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent‘…What Paul was looking for…what we are all looking for, is an ultimate verdict that we are important and valuable. We look for that ultimate verdict every day in all the situations and people around us. And that means that every single day, we are on trial…Some days we feel we are winning the trial and some days we feel we are losing it. But Paul says that he has found the secret. The trial is over for him. He is out of the courtroom…Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?…In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family…You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them…(pp. 37-41).”

This one simple, often overlooked truth from Paul has so many implications for how I live my daily life, that I’ll be a long time in processing and applying it to my thinking and living. But I look forward to the outcome. I look forward to the fresh air of freedom. I’ve been living on trial long enough. Praise God that His love, His acceptance, and His opinion of our performance is unconditional because of Christ. Now let’s live in fitting response to that freedom, starting today.