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“Trust God’s Word when it says you’re loved and forgiven”: meditation on Psalm 119:1

November 11, 2019

How happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk according to the Lord’s instruction! Psalm 119:1 CSB

“How happy are those”: The KJV and its successors use the word “blessed” (NLT: “joyful”) in place of “happy,” perhaps because “blessed” connotes a deeper, God-ordained kind of happiness. Still, I prefer “happy,” because it requires no nuance or qualification: I want to be happy in my life! (Don’t you?) And here’s how happiness is possible, the psalmist says.

Does this book tell the truth? Can I trust it? O Lord, I believe that it does and I can! Let me be happy like this!

But how can I, sinner that I am, be “blameless”? Am I disqualified from this promised happiness before I start? No. First, I remember imputation: that Jesus was made to “be sin” so that I could “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). I’m “blameless” because my life is found in the One who was blameless on my behalf.

Second, “blameless” does not imply “sinless.” (See Phil 3:6.) Rather, when I sin, I follow 1 John 1:9: confess and trust that God is “righteous” (or “just”) to forgive my sin. Why does John appeal to God’s justice? Because my sin has already been punished on the cross. Therefore, startling as it is to say, it would be unjust of God to punish my sin again.

My point is this: Part of being “blameless” means believing that God’s Word tells the truth when it describes God’s way of forgiving us through the cross.

“Every day is a fight for joy”: meditation on Psalm 116:10-11

October 25, 2019

I believed, even when I said,
“I am severely oppressed.”
In my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
Psalm 116:10-11

The fight of my life is the fight for joy. I want to know, alongside the apostle Paul, the “secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need” (Philippians 4:12). O Lord, give me the kind of lasting happiness that doesn’t depend on circumstances. Indeed, my circumstances lie to me nearly every moment of every day. They tell me, “This problem is overwhelming. You’re going to fail. You’re bound to disappoint people who love you. You’re right to be angry”—as if our sovereign God hasn’t promised to work for my best interest (and yours) in every circumstance.

Lacking God’s eternal vantage point, I often shouldn’t trust my senses or my reason (“lean not unto thine own understanding,” Proverbs 3:5).

But let me believe, Lord, even as I say, “I am severely oppressed.” Inasmuch as “everyone” tempts me to doubt the goodness of your plan for my life, let me say, with the psalmist, “Everyone is a liar.” Your word is true. #HeReadsTruthBible #ChristianStandardBible #CSB

“No obstacle you face is any match for the Lord”: meditation on Psalm 114:3-6

October 18, 2019

The sea looked and fled;
the Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills, like lambs.
Why was it, sea, that you fled?
Jordan, that you turned back?
Mountains, that you skipped like rams?
Hills, like lambs?
Psalm 114:3-6

I often feel afraid. I lack confidence. I feel stuck—as if some bad thing in my life will never change for the better. I feel weak or powerless. But what about God? Who do I think he is? Is he not always on my side? Are his angels not always fighting for me?

Why was it, sea, that you fled?

Why, indeed! Whatever obstacles or enemies I face—real or (just as likely) imagined—are no match for my Lord. In him I have all the power I need.

Here’s the truth: I face no obstacle or enemy greater than the one in my own head—that devilish voice telling me I’m bound to lose. Is the God who causes mountains to skip like rams powerful enough to defeat these thoughts? I pray and believe that he is. #HeReadsTruthBible #BibleJournaling

Sermon 10-06-19: “How Many Loaves Do You Have?”

October 17, 2019

Sermon Text: Mark 6:30-44

You can listen to this sermon on my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Subscribe now!

A new word has entered our lexicon: hangry. A combination of hunger and anger, it plays on the idea—which is surely true—that we tend to get grumpy when we’re hungry. The word has been featured in memes on social media and even recent advertisements—from the people at Snicker’s, for instance. One ad says, “You’re not you when you’re hangry.”

And maybe that’s what’s going on with the disciples in today’s scripture. They might be a little hangry. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had commissioned the twelve disciples to go, two by two, to preach the gospel, to heal people, and to drive out demons—under his authority; he would give them the power to succeed in the mission. And they’ve just returned from that mission, as verse 30 indicates: “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” 

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.

Mark 6:31-32

But let’s notice something: This “desolate place” where Jesus wants them to go and rest isn’t a place they go to without Jesus. They are going to this desolate place by themselves with Jesus. In other words, Jesus knows that the disciples have been very busy, working hard, doing ministry. And now what do they need to do? Go on vacation? Take a break from all this ministry work? Enjoy some downtime? No. Now they need to spend time alone with Jesus.

If you have your Bibles—and you should—turn a few pages to the left, to Mark chapter 3, verse 14. Jesus is calling the twelve disciples. And he gives a job description for a what a disciple is supposed to do: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”[1] So… looking at those two verses, you tell me: What is the most important thing that a disciple can do?

That’s right: to be with Jesus. It is, in fact, the most important part of the job. You’re supposed to spend time being with him, and then go and do work for him. We saw this in August when we talked about Mary and Martha. Martha criticized her sister for “being with Jesus” when, Martha believed, she should have been helping in the kitchen—literally serving Jesus by fixing him dinner. But Jesus said, “No, Martha, your sister has her priorities exactly right: I don’t want you to serve me as much as I want you to spend time with me… to be with me. Do that first, then worry about ‘serving’ me.”

Listen: I do not want any of you serving this church in any way unless you aren’t also spending time with Jesus! You’ll just get grumpy. You’ll just get mean. You’ll make other people miserable. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. [Tell the story of Bill, the Admin Board leader and powerful committee chair who for years used his many church responsibilities as an excuse to avoid feeding his soul through worshiping and Bible study. He was always at church, “helping” the church, but never worshiping, never spending time in God’s Word. It’s not like he “tried me out,” didn’t like my preaching, and didn’t come back. No! I couldn’t even take it personally. But when he finally got mad enough to leave the church—because people like him who work at the church constantly without “spending time with Jesus” always eventually get “burned out,” get mad, and leave—when that finally happened, he went to another church. 

And he was trying to recruit his friends away from my church to go with him to the other church he joined. He said, “You need to come to my church. I’m being fed for the first time in years!” And one of my parishioners said, “Right, Bill, you are being fed. Because you’re not so busy serving the church that you’re actually spending time with Jesus. I’m glad that for the first time in decades you’re being fed.But you could have been fed at our church if you’d only ever bothered to show up for worship or Sunday school or Bible study.”]

When Jesus calls the disciples to “come away to a desolate place” and spend time with him, he’s calling them to do the same thing we see him doing throughout the gospels. In Mark chapter 1, verse 35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” But this is just one example. Luke’s gospel, especially, emphasizes the prayer life of Jesus. For example, all four gospels describe the Spirit’s descending on Jesus after he was baptized by John, but only Luke adds the detail that the Spirit came upon Jesus while he was praying.[2] Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe Jesus’ call of the twelve disciples, but only Luke tells us that Jesus had been up all night praying before he called them.[3] Matthew, Mark, and Luke each describe Peter’s great confession of Jesus as the Messiah, but only Luke tells us that it happens after Jesus had been praying by himself.[4]

And again, those same three gospels describe the Transfiguration, but only Luke tells us that this miracle occurred while Jesus was praying.[5] All four gospels describe Peter’s three denials of Jesus, but only Luke tells that because Jesus prayed for Peter in advance, Peter’s faith did not ultimately fail, and that he would later be used by God to do great things for the kingdom.[6]

Here’s what I want us to consider: Jesus was God in the flesh; fully human but also fully God. He was the only begotten Son of the Father; he was perfect and sinless in every way. He enjoyed a more intimate relationship with his Father than any human being who ever lived.Yet consider this: Jesus would not have succeeded in his ministry—and none of us would not be saved today—had Jesus notmade it his top priority to spend time with his Father. 

Doesn’t it go without saying that if even the perfect, sinless only begotten Son of God needed to do this in order to accomplish his mission, how much more do we? 

Obviously one way that we “come away by ourselves to a deserted place and rest with Jesus” is through having a quiet time and come to church—where we listen to Jesus through his Word [hold up Bible] and talk to him through prayer

One of my favorite contemporary preachers and writers, Tim Keller, confessed in a book he wrote on prayer that even relatively late in his life and ministry prayer was not the top priority it should have been. That only changed around the time he was diagnosed with cancer. He found, like so many of us pastors, that preaching is easier than praying. His wife, Kathy, told him something that helped motivate him to pray with his wife every evening. She said,

Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.[7]

Tim Keller

So the disciples got in a boat to go to this “desolate place,” but it’s no use: People on the the shore saw where they were headed, and they told other people, and those people told other people. And by the time they reach shore, there’s a crowd waiting for them. Time to do ministry again! No rest for the weary. And probably no food for the weary, either. Because remember: Before they got on the boat they hadn’t eaten. And there’s no indication that they have time to eat before it’s time to minister to get to work. So… getting back to what I said earlier, the disciples are likely hangry.

Which would explain why all Bible commentators say that the way the disciples speak to Jesus in today’s scripture is unprecedented in its lack of respect. It’s getting late. Jesus has been preaching God’s Word to a large crowd of people. The disciples are hangry. The crowds are hungry. And they tell him in verses 35 and 36, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” And Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” And disciples respond with perhaps their rudest, or angriest, words in all of scripture, in verse 37: “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” Two hundred denarii are almost a year’s wages. This response very sarcastic—even a bit mean: Like, who do they think they’re talking to! As if Jesus doesn’t know what time it is! As if Jesus doesn’t know what this crowd of people really needs! As if Jesus doesn’t know how seemingly impossible it is to feed all these people!

Where’s the humility? If they weren’t hangry, perhaps they might preface their question by using the word “Lord” or “Master.” “Lord, we don’t know how to do what you’re asking. Help us understand, please. How can we feed them?”

The disciples’ response to Jesus here reminds me of a meme I saw recently: “I want to serve Jesus… but only as an advisor.”

But let’s get to the question at hand. Verse 38: “And he said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’ And when they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’” 

So they have five loaves and two fish… We learn from John’s gospel that they only have these because a boy in the crowd shared with them. But the amount hardly matters: Remember, these are 5,000 men—with women and children, the crowd could be 20,000 people. Even if they had 50 loaves and 20 fish, or 500 loaves and 200 fish, the ultimate answer to Jesus’ question would be exactly the same… “Not enough.” “Jesus, we don’t have enough to do what you’re asking us to do.”

But here’s where the disciples are in good company. How often is it the case that God’s people in the Bible have “enough”—or are enough in and of themselves—to accomplish what God calls them to accomplish. Noah was just one man… He didn’t have enough time or manpower to save God’s Creation from the flood! Abraham and Sarah were too old—and were unable to have kids when they were young. They didn’t have enough youth, enough good health, or enough patience, to give birth a nation set apart for God! Moses had a speech impediment. He didn’t have enough oratory prowess to stand up to the Pharaoh! Gideon was the biggest coward. He didn’t have enough courage to lead Israel to victory over the fearsome Midianites! David was young. He didn’t have enough strength, experience, or stature to win a victory over Goliath and the Philistines. The prophet Isaiah was a “man of unclean lips who lived among a people of unclean lips.”[8] He didn’t have enough “holiness” to rescue Judah from the Assyrians and tell them about the coming Messiah. And we know about Mary, and what she lacked… And we know about Peter, and what he lacked… And we know about Paul, and what he lacked.

Again and again, the common refrain: “I don’t have enough, Lord, to do what you’re asking. I’m not enough, Lord—I’m far too inadequate; I’m not good enough; I’m not strong enough; I’m not smart enough; I’m not wise enough; I’m not pretty enough; I’m not popular enough; I’m too big a failure; I’m too poor; I’m too big a sinner; I’ve got all this baggage from my past. Who am I to do what you say? Who am I to answer your call? Who am I to be part of your plan?

“I don’t have enough, Lord! I’m not good enough! I don’t have what I need!”

But if you feel this way, hear this good news: God has got you exactly where he wants you!

Oh, it’s true… In a way you’re right: You don’t have what you need… to save your marriage…. to save your business… to solve that problem at work… to solve your financial crisis… to kick your addiction… to kick your drinking problem… to save your family… to save your child… to overcome your health problems… to face that scary diagnosis… You’re not good enough, you’re not tough enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not holy enough… You’re just too weak.

But brothers and sisters, hear this good news: “[Jesus] grace is sufficient for you.” You’re insufficient; but Jesus’ grace is more than sufficient. “For [Christ’s] power is made perfect in weakness.” Watch what Jesus can do through you—he’s got all the power you need! “Therefore [you] will boast all the more gladly of [your] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [you].” Your weakness is an opportunity for Jesus Christ to show you his power! Let him show you his power! “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Because Jesus Christ is going to be my strength for me.

Say, “I am weak… but he is strong.” Say, “I don’t have enough… but Jesus has enough for me.” Say, “I’m not enough… but Jesus is enough for me.”

Jesus is enough for me… Jesus is enough for me. Amen.

1. Mark 3:14-15 ESV 2. Luke 3:21 3. Luke 6:12 4. Luke 9:18 5. Luke 9:28-29 6. Luke 22:32 7. Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 24. 8. Isaiah 6:5

“God promises us victory”: meditation on Psalm 108:10-11

October 4, 2019

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
God, haven’t you rejected us?
God, you do not march out with our armies.
Psalm 108:10-11

In Psalm 108, David has heard a new word from God: “Moab is my washbasin; I throw my sandal on Edom. I shout in triumph over Philistia.” In other words, while God had previously not been “marching out with our armies,” that will no longer be the case. God has relented from punishing Israel; he is ready to give her victory.

Here’s some good news for us: If we are in Christ, this “new word” that David heard in the sanctuary (v. 7) will always be true for us: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) While God disciplines us for our ultimate good (Hebrews 12:5-11), he will never punish us for our sin—not anymore. He will never cease to “march out with our armies”—whatever that may look like in our context.

How could this not be true? Christ has made us righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s favor rests on us (Luke 2:14). The Father loves us exactly as much as he loves his Son (John 17:23, 26).

As with David, God has spoken in his sanctuary, and we need to hear his word and believe it: “Whatever harm the Enemy wants to cause you, I will give you the victory!” #BibleJournaling #HeReadsTruthBible #CSB

“Desiring God more than what he gives us”: meditation on Genesis 40:21

September 19, 2019

Genesis 40:14, 21: But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison… Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

When the chief cupbearer, for whom Joseph successfully interpreted a dream, is restored to his royal position, he “did not remember Joseph.” This is precisely the same as saying, “He did not remember God,” since Joseph told him in v. 8 that “interpretations belong to”—therefore originate from—God. Why doesn’t the cupbearer, upon seeing how God blessed him fall on his knees in praise and thanksgiving? Why had he forgotten the One from whom this particular blessing had flowed?

The same reason we often do.

In fact, the cupbearer’s example goes to show the grave spiritual danger that prosperity poses for us. At the first sign of success, we forget God. We forget our dependence upon God. In so many words, our prayers amount to asking God to enable our idolatry: “God, I need you to solve this problem more than I need you. My idol, which is currently being threatened by this problem, is more important to me than you are.”

Dear Lord, give us the grace to desire you more than anything you can give us. Amen. #BibleJournaling #HeReadsTruthBible #ChristianStandardBible #CSB

“The good I do is God doing through me”: meditation on Genesis 39:3-4a

September 16, 2019

 

Genesis 39:3-4a: When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, Joseph found favor with his master and became his personal attendant.

The psalmist in 104:21 writes, “The young lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.” Allow me to be indignant on behalf of “young lions” everywhere. After all, God isn’t exactly placing the antelope in the lion’s mouth! The lion has to find its prey, chase it down, and catch it. At the same time, the psalm insists, God is feeding the lion.

Say what you will about lions; they don’t need Xanax. Come to think of it, my majestic house cat, Peanut, isn’t exactly sweating his next meal, either. He seeks his food from God—by way of my family and Purina.

Nevertheless, if it’s true for lions and house cats, it’s true for us who are God’s children through faith in Christ. Joseph, as today’s scripture makes clear, prospered because of God. And so do we. While we often fail to perceive God’s hand, it is on everything that we do. So much so that when we succeed, we can say, “God has done this. God has given me this”—however much it wounds my pride to say it. I’d much rather say, “Look what I’ve accomplished.”

“For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Here’s a seemingly paradoxical biblical truth, which, if I could only apply it to my life, would save me a lot of anxiety: All the good I do is God doing through me. Thank you, Jesus! #BibleJournaling #ChristianStandardBible #HeReadsTruthBible

“I’m a beloved and highly favored son of my Father”: meditation on Genesis 37:35

September 11, 2019

Genesis 37:35: All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

Jacob believes that his son Joseph is dead. He’s inconsolable. But when he says, “I shall go down to Sheol to my son,” I’m reminded that, in a sense, this is what God does for us, his children. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, descends not merely “to realm of the dead,” but to hell itself (on the cross, at least, in the cry of dereliction from Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Why does God do this? For the same reason that Jacob is inconsolable: out of a Father’s love for his highly favored “sons” (and daughters).

One prominent Christian musician made headlines recently, announcing that he had left the Christian faith. He cited as reasons his questions related to suffering, science, and the reliability of scripture. “No one in the church is talking about it,” he said. While that hasn’t been my experience—many Christian apologists have tackled these questions—I’d be happy to talk with him. Besides—and not to make light of his struggle—aren’t those questions relatively easy?

Here’s the hard one for me: Do I believe that my Father loves me the way Jacob loves Joseph—only perfectly? Do I believe that my Father wants to be with me, even me, as much as Jacob wants to be with Joseph—only infinitely more so? This is by far the hardest doctrine in Christianity.

At the risk of great hypocrisy, I believe it. But, dear Lord, let it change my life the way it should!

Sermon 09-08-19: “What Are You Seeking?”

September 11, 2019

Sermon Text: John 1:35-51

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Beware of the “Barefoot Beer Bandit.” That was the urgent message that police in Florence, Kentucky, sent out to the public in July. An unidentified man, who was barefoot and wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey with the number 32 on it, was captured on video walking into a convenience store and stealing a case of beer. This prompted rookie Bengals running back Trayveon Williams who currently wears number 32, to tweet a link to the story with a facepalm emoji and the words, “Come on, man!”

Understandably, Williams was embarrassed to have this particular fan representing him by wearing his jersey. 

I point this out because, as you’ve probably heard before, the word “Christian” itself means “little Christ”—as if the rest of the world is supposed to learn something about Jesus by watching us. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to be “ambassadors for Christ”[1]; that is, we are quite literally supposed to represent Jesus in the world and to the world. When I was a kid in church, someone performed a contemporary Christian song that urged us to remember, “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.” And that message probably made many of us think, “Uh oh.”  Read the rest of this entry »

“God satisfies you with good”: meditation on Psalm 103:1-5

September 6, 2019

Psalm 103:5: [God] satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

In the Bob Dylan song “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” the singer has fallen in love and is therefore acting in ways that don’t make sense to himself. He sings—of himself—”You’re gonna make me give myself a good talking to.”

Similarly, in Psalm 103, David is giving himself—his soul—a “good talking to”: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Then, in verses 2 through 5, he reminds his soul of the many reasons that he has to bless the Lord: The Lord “forgives all your iniquity,” “heals all your diseases,” “redeems your life from the pit,” “crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,” and “satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Why does David need to give his soul a good talking to? Why do I?

This morning, as with most mornings, I woke up thinking something like this: “I will be happy today if… I will not have to worry today if… I will feel good about myself today if…” In other words, the extent to which I will be happy in life depends on people and circumstances over which I have little, if any, control. My soul seeks refuge in contingencies rather than in the rock, the fortress, and the stronghold that is my God.

Perhaps David’s soul does, too.

So in this psalm he reminds it of a different kind of happiness—one that doesn’t depend on circumstances. It will always be the case, for example, that God “satisfies [us] with good”: “The Lord is my shepherd,” after all. “I shall not want.” “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “[M]y God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

God’s ability and willingness to satisfy me will be true no matter what—even in the worst case scenario, when I die—because then I’ll have Christ in all his fullness (Philippians 1:21).

Not that I remember this most of the time. So I remind my soul, fickle child that it is, “Here are the reasons, Brent, for you to be truly happy.”