Archive for the month “September, 2012”

The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3: The Sinfulness of Our Sin

At the end of the chapter, Bridges summarizes his thoughts in this way:

“It may seem as if I am overly belaboring the sinfulness of our sin, but I am convinced that I have not painted the picture nearly as dark as it is to our infinitely holy God. Furthermore, we will not see our continual need of the gospel if we do not see our continual sinfulness. I believe that we do not truly appreciate the gospel until we become desperate for it.” (p.39)

Here are some of his thoughts leading up to this summation.

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah pronounced woe upon himself: “Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” The word “unclean” he used is the same word lepers were required to use as they would cry out “unclean, unclean” (Lev 13:45)

Isaiah was essentially calling himself a moral leper. This from a man who was presumably righteous before God. He had seen a vision of the infinite holiness of God and by comparison, saw himself as a man of unclean lips. Isaiah would later write “We have all become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Is 64:6)

Bridges says, “For us today, this is where spiritual transformation really begins – when we begin to see that even our best deeds on our best days are like a polluted garment before an infinitely holy God.” (p.31)

On page 35 he quotes Augustine who says this same thing in a different way: “Our best works are but ‘splendid vices’ in the sense they are less than the perfection God requires.”

Later in the chapter Bridges gives two great reasons why he is putting such an emphasis on the seriousness of sin.

1) Most Christians, he says, do not take their own sin seriously. “The self-esteem, ‘feel good about yourself’ movement has so infected the church that it is unfashionable to consider ourselves sinners.” Rather, he says, we are people who “make mistakes.” We just don’t take sin seriously.

2) We need to realize our need for the gospel and our need to embrace it everyday. “It is against the backdrop of our sinfulness”, he says, “that the beauty of the gospel shines so brilliantly.” (p.36)

But what does the gospel have to do with spiritual transformation? Isn’t it just what we need to get us into the kingdom? No. Bridges points out that the gospel keeps us from discouragement as we see how continually and how far short we come in obedience. And the gospel keeps us from self-righteousness because the gospel is only for sinners. It keeps us from lapsing into a performance based relationship with God because we know that our performance is NEVER good enough. And the gospel is the great motivator for pursuing spiritual motivation – especially when we begin to understand what grace is all about. (p. 37)

Next Week: Chapter 4: The Great Exchange

Pondering Psalm 63

(You will note that I have changed my Wednesday blog title from Prayer Mentoring to Pondering Psalms. This is because I am being mentored in my praying as I ponder the Psalm. And since my Friday post is no longer a pondering post I wanted to use Wednesdays for my pondering of Scripture. Two birds with one stone so to speak.)

To read Psalm 63 in its entirety you can click HERE.

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

The first word that grabs my attention is in verse 1 – “earnestly.” One of the definitions I found for the word goes like this: demanding or receiving serious attention. In other words, David is serious about seeking God. Its not something he has to do; its not something he does half-hearted; its not something he does only when he is in crisis mode. It is something he is compelled to do because his soul yearns for God like our bodies yearn for food. He has sought satisfaction in other places and has come away feeling hungry and empty. The only place he has found true satisfaction is when he “earnestly” seeks after God.

How does one go about earnestly seeking God? I ask that  question because I would not consider myself to be an earnest seeker after God – and yet I want to be. Here are a few clues I learn from this wonderful Psalm.

He reflects back on times when he experienced God in a powerful way.  I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.” Sometimes when God seems far away we need to reflect back on times when He felt very near. Draw on those rich times to help us through the dry times. Do you have times like this? Times when God felt so close to you that it seemed as if you could reach out and touch Him. Uncommon, out of the ordinary times when the presence of God was cogent and the glory of God was prevalent. I hope so because they will help you to earnestly seek Him when He is not so easily found.

He determines to seek God (even when he doesn’t feel like it) – Note in verses 3-5 the use of the word “will.” This is a future tense word. David has made up his mind not to be content with a hum drum spiritual life. Come what may he has committed himself to glorify God, to praise God, and to be satisfied only in God.

He intentionally thinks on God throughout the night  (v.6) – I don’t know about you but when I climb in bed I am done thinking. David on the other hand makes it a point to rev up his thinking. He is so intent on seeking God that he   recollects Scripture and dwells on the nature of God throughout the night. The last two nights I have not slept well – and have tried purposefully to dwell on Scripture and on the nature of God during these awake times. Just trying to put my pondering into practice.

He clings to God (v. 8) – People are trying to destroy David’s life. (v.9) When it would be easy to feel like God had turned His back on him, David clings to God even more fiercely. It’s as if he’s hanging on to God for dear life – which is a great thing to do. Reminds me of a verse in Jonah who prays at a time when his life was in grave danger (hanging out in the belly of a “whale”), “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Both of these men learned the need to cling to God. Makes me ask the question, “What am I clinging to?”

Next Week: Psalm 67

The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Chapter 2)

This Week: Chapter 2

1. When thinking about the holiness of God, why is it necessary to grasp the meaning of His transcendent majesty before we can understand His moral purity? Transcendent majesty speaks of the infinite power, authority, royalty, dignity, and splendor that is God’s. Transcendent meaning all surpassing, above and beyond anything we can comprehend. He is so “separate” from us that the Hebrews did not have a word to describe it – they had to use repetition to give his holiness the emphasis it deserved. Holy! Holy! Holy! It is only when we can begin to catch a glimpse of his “otherliness” that we can begin to grasp his moral purity.

2. Do you think Christians tend to believe Isaiah’s declaration that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”? Why or why not? Not so much. We are called to “be holy as He is holy”. But we tend to measure ourselves against others rather than against Him. As long as we are doing better than the people around us then we can feel good about ourselves. It is hard for us too believe that even the “righteous” stuff that we do can be so polluted because it looks pretty good to us. We have no idea what the holiness of God looks like.

3. In view of God’s transcendent majesty and infinite moral purity, why is wrath necessary? Because of God’s holy nature He cannot look at sin with indifference. He hates it. His wrath “reflects His holy hatred of all sin and His determination to punish it.” It is His “infinite justice in action – a justice that cannot allow any sin, be it ever so small in our eyes, to go unpunished.”

I really like the illustration that Bridges uses on page 26. It is given to elucidate this quote by George Smeaton: “The guilt of the offense is proportional to the greatness, the moral excellence, and the glory of Him against whom the offense is committed and who made us for loyal obedience to Himself.”

Suppose you want a new rug to cover the wooden floor in your living room. Being of modest means, you go to the local discount store and pay three hundred dollars for a rug. I come into your house with a bottle of black indelible ink and spill that ink on your rug. I have just ruined your three-hundred-dollar rug. But suppose you are a wealthy person and your pay thirty thousand dollars for an expensive Persian rug. If I spill ink on that rug, it is an entirely different matter. Why is that true? It is the same act on my part. In both instances. I have spilled black indelible ink on a rug. The difference, of course, lies in the value of the rug.

This is the way we should view the enormity of our sin. God’s holiness cannot be compared to even the thirty-thousand-dollar rug. It is infinite. It is immeasurable. Furthermore, we do not accidentally “spill” our sin on God’s holiness. For the most part, we rather pour out our sin; that is, we choose to act out our pride and selfishness, our judgmental attitudes, and our unkind words about others. And when we do that, we deliberately pour out sin on the holiness of God. That is why our sin, be it ever so small in our eyes, is always an abomination to God.

Next Week: Chapter 3

 

Prayer Mentoring with David (Psalm 62)

If you want to read Psalm 62 you can click HERE.

Last week (Psalm 57) the imagery that was in David’s mind was that of a refuge as he was hiding from King Saul in a cave. This week the imagery in his mind as he thinks about God is that of a rock:

My soul finds rest in God alone;
    my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

3 times in this Psalm David refers to God as his Rock. It would appear from reading this Psalm that things were on somewhat shaky ground in his kingdom. David knew that he could cling to THE Rock even when “all other ground was sinking sand.”

We all need a Rock to cling to. Often the ground under our feet is shaky. Sometimes we even get that sinking feeling. Praise God that He is our Rock.

A few years ago I wrote a song in this regard. I will share the words with you (and spare you the audio version). As I was thinking about God as my Rock this is how I expressed it. I would encourage you to ponder the great truth that God is your Rock and find a way somehow to express it.

You are a Rock

You are a Rock that refreshes
You are a Rock that I find refuge in
You are a Rock that has redeemed me
A Rock that has released me from my sin

Chorus:
And I will praise you
I will praise you
I’ll praise your holy name
Your greatness I’ll proclaim
I will praise you
I will praise you
I’ll praise the one who is the solid Rock.

You are a Rock I can rely on
You are a Rock that has rescued me from hell
You are a Rock that I can run to
A Rock that I can rest in when I fail

(Chorus)

The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Chapter 1)

Here is my plan of attack for sharing my thoughts as I read this book. At the end of each chapter are 3 Discussion Questions which are designed to sum up the chapter. I am going to answer these as best I can by summing up what Bridges says in the book. If there are other things that strike me outside of this I will make some additional comments. On to chapter 1 entitled “Too Old Soon, Too Late Smart”

Q1: Spiritual transformation requires dependent responsibility. How does this differ from living by the concept of “Let go and let God”? Let go and let God essentially means that just as you can do nothing for your salvation but trust in Jesus, so you can do nothing for your transformation but trust in Jesus. This is not biblical. Dependent responsibility assumes that while we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, we are responsible to obey the moral commands and exhortations of Scripture. In other words we can’t expect the Spirit of God to do what He wants to do if we are not willing to put God’s Word into practice and seek to live according to His ways.

Q2: If we live in denial about our sin, we will not grow. How does the gospel free us up to honestly face our sin? Because the gospel tells us that, despite the fact that we continue to sin after we are saved, because of the death of Christ God no longer counts that sin against us. And it gives us motivation and courage to daily fight sin that we might more reflect the holiness of our Savior.

Q3: Why do believers in Christ still need the gospel everyday? Because the gospel daily reminds us that from God’s point of view, our relationship with Him is not based on how good or how bad we’ve been but upon the perfect goodness and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And because we are performance oriented by nature, and because our culture reinforces this orientation, we need this daily reminder.

Next Week: Chapter 2 – The Holiness of God

Prayer Mentoring with David – Psalm 57

To read Psalm 57 you can click HERE.

There are several things from this Psalm that stand out to me…

A note about the context – David has fled from King Saul (1 Samuel 24) and is hiding in a cave. If I were journaling about this experience I would have noted, “I found refuge in a cave.” David, however, says “…in You my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” David knew that that if God wanted him to be found then the cave would not protect him. His only refuge was in the Lord. This is a great reminder – that when things look bleak and life is tough I can run to God and find refuge in a way that I can find it no where else.

He says in verse 2 that he cries out to “God Most High, who fulfills His purpose for me” – David instinctively knew that that he was a part of God’s grand purpose. At this point in his life that purpose included hiding in a cave. Sometimes God allows us to have cave experiences so that we can learn to cling to God.

There is significance to the name David uses in this verse for God – God Most High. God, from His exalted place in the heavens, has a vantage point that we do not have. He can see the big picture. He can see how Davids’ cave experience will be used to grow him. He can see how our tough times and difficult days will mold us and make us and shape us. When we find ourselves in these places we must cry out to Him. Take refuge in Him. Find solace in Him – because He is fulfilling His purposes for us. And I am reminded that His purposes for me are usually not my purposes for me.

Twice in this Psalm David mentions the love and faithfulness of God (vs 3 & 10). He does this at a time when his life is in danger. Even in crisis – when life is seemingly austere- his faith in the love and faithfulness of God triumphs over despair and hopelessness. This is an incredible perspective to have and the mark of genuine faith.

Finally I will mention what seems to be a refrain in this Psalm. It is a phrase that David repeats two times. “Be exalted O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be over all the earth.” (vs 5  & 11). It is as if David has adopted this phrase as his life goal. Not a bad one to have. Whether he is the King reigning over the nations or a fugitive running for his life his desire is that God might be exalted and that God’s glory might be pervasive.

May this be true for me and for you as well.

Pondering Ephesians 6:21-24

This Week’s Passage21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. 23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

A few random thoughts about phrases in this passage…

Tychicus is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament (Acts 20:4Ephesians 6:21Colossians 4:72 Timothy 4:12Titus 3:12). Here he is referred to as a dear brother and faithful servant. As I ponder this it makes me wonder how my ministry colleagues refer to me.

He was being sent to the Ephesians to encourage them. Interesting! You would think that with Paul being in prison that he would be the one needing encouragement. Paul was not throwing a pity party for himself because of his circumstances. He was thinking about others and what they needed. This is a mark of humility. It is also the mark of a man who has been captured  not by the Romans but by the all sufficient love of Christ. He is able to look at the needs of others when most people would only be thinking of themselves.

I love the way that Paul finishes off this letter. It is a benediction of grace. Grace has certainly been a key word in this letter – especially chapter 2. Paul wants his readers never to forget that they are to live by grace, under grace, with grace.

“to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” – 2 questions spring to mind here:

1) What constitutes an undying love ? Paul is a man who’s life was radically transformed. He was a dead man walking who was made alive by the same power that raised Christ from the dead. He owed Christ everything and he did not take anything for granted. He never forgot what it was like to be “not saved.” And because of this his love for his Saviour was undying. I wonder, for those of us who have been Christians for a long time , or perhaps cannot even remember not being a Christian – do we know what it is like to be “not saved”. It might be worth pondering what our life would be like had we not been transformed by the grace of God.

2) What would make love  for Christ die? We can probably all think of people who at one time professed love for Christ but now are not anywhere to be found. How does that happen? Maybe the love was not genuine to begin with. Maybe they got sucked into loving the things of this world. Maybe they  were “disappointed by God.” Maybe they got hurt by someone in the church. Maybe they were disenchanted by the “hypocrisy” of Christians. Maybe no one demonstrated care and concern at a time when they were very needy. Is there anything that would make your love for Christ die? Do you love Him with an undying love? Do I?

***

So there you have it. If you have hung with me this year we have pondered the book of Ephesians in just over 8 months. Good stuff. I hope it has been as helpful to you as it has been to me. So what next? Here is what I am thinking. Right now I am pondering in the Psalms and posting on Wednesdays some of my reflections as they pertain to prayer. One of the disciplines I need to consistently add to my spiritual diet is that of reading great books. So on Fridays I will begin posting some things that strike me from a book I am just now beginning to read called The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges. If you would like to read along with me you can get the book HERE.

Next Week: The Transforming Power of the Gospel – Chapter 1

Prayer Mentoring with the Psalmist (Psalm 51)

1 Samuel 13:14 (and Acts 13:22)  describes David as a man after God’s own heart. I’ve always thought that this was curious knowing what we know about David. He was a murderer, he was an adulterer, he was not a very good parent. And yet…! So why would the Bible describe him this way?  Psalm 51 is as good a reason as I can come up with. I will let it speak for itself – read it thoughtfully and see if you come up with the same reasons that I come up with.

Psalm 51

(A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.)

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

 

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