Friday, August 08, 2014

God's Perpetual Care

There was a popular song a few years back by Third Day, the foundation of which was Psalm 36:5-6.  I wish whoever had written the lyrics had gone ahead written about the rest of that section so that we could see more of the beauty and perpetuity of God's care for us.  The following are the verses 5-9 of Psalm 36, with the heading of each verse giving us an area of God's care that is highlighted in that verse.

In God we have:

35:5 Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

36:6a Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like a great deep.

36:6b O Lord, You preserve man and beast.

36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

36:8 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.

36:9a For with You is the fountain of life;

Spiritual Sight
36:9a In Your light we see light.

And Father, we pause now, and give You thanks for Your wonderful and marvelous provision.  We thank you that You are able to do abundantly more than we ask or think, and that You do just that in the lives of Your children.  Thank you for our daily bread, the cleansing from sin, and the availability of Your ear.  Bless Your name now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Persuasive Preaching or Powerful Preaching?

The word persuade is defined as causing someone to do or believe something. There are many who believe that preaching must be persuasive, and to a degree it must be. However, there is a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.  There is much preaching that goes on that is nothing but rank manipulation, and I am not talking about only the religious hucksters, the religious profiteers, and the televangelists, for they are the most obvious ones; but I am also referring here to the regular pastor/preacher types.

There is tendency, indeed a temptation, that for a sermon to be successful it must elicit some type of visceral response, cause some type of emotional reaction, or cause the congregants to tell the pastor how good the sermon was or how moved they were.  There is also the temptation to "move" the congregation to get behind a particular issue or event or project that is important to the pastor.

Honestly, the need to have these kind of responses reveal a great deal about the pastor...his ego and his insecurity.  To be frank, all of us who preach want to know if our sermons are hitting the mark, if they are effective, if they are doing anyone any good; but a preoccupation with the effect of the sermon or the response to the sermon, can cause the pastor to incorporate manipulation into his sermon (its production and presentation) so as to get the response he desires.  There is also the desire to come alongside certain issues or projects that particularly appeal to us that fits in here as well.

So, should sermons be persuasive?  Of course, they should!  But they should be spiritually persuasive because they are spiritually powerful.  A spiritually powerful sermon is always persuasive, but in order to be spiritually powerful, they must be based on Scripture, kept in context, accurately handled, and, might I add, soaked in Scripture.

The Lord tells us in Jeremiah 1:12 that He stands over His word to perform it. In Isaiah 55:11 the Lord states that His word will not return to Him empty without accomplishing His desire for it.  In I Thessalonians 2:13 He tells us that His word performs its work in those who believe.  In I Peter 2:2 we learn that it is His word that causes us to grow in respect to our salvation. Notice that it is His word He stands over, not the preacher's; it is His word that does not return empty, not the preacher's; it is His word that performs its work in the heart of the believer, not the preacher's; and it is His word that causes spiritual growth, not the preacher's. So for us to be spiritually persuasive, and, therefore spiritually effective, we must use more of His word and less of our own.  It is only sermons that are spiritually persuasive that have a lasting effect.

As preachers we preach to the heart through the mind in order to bend the will.  The will once bent will remain that way, but the bending of the will comes incrementally, much like watching a blacksmith forge an iron tool as he gradually conforms it to the shape he desires.  True change that is the result of true persuasion, is change that is permanent in nature.  Only the word of God attended by the Spirit of God can effect such a lasting change.

So if you want your sermons to be truly persuasive, then base them on the word of God, having accurately handled it to get its message (not your own) out of the text. And, be patient, trusting the Lord and His word to do what only they can do.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Trials-Faith Tested, Faith Proven

When I was young boy, one of my favorite books was The Red Badge of Courage.  This was a novel set in the Civil War about a teenager who went to war as a drummer.  He often wondered if he had real courage, courage enough not to run in the thick of the battle.  Sure enough he would find out.  In the heat of a fierce battle he sustained a head wound.  His head was bandaged, and the bandage was soon soaked with his blood. Wounded and hurting, he grabbed the flag from a fallen comrade and led the charge.  The red bloody bandage became the red badge of his courage for all to see.  A great story, one that still gives me a thrill to think about.

Faith untested is faith unproven.  So have you ever wondered about the proof of your faith?  Have you ever wondered what you would have to show the Lord to prove the reality of your faith when you stand before Him on that final day?  You can't hold faith, you can't touch and feel faith, you can't see faith itself, faith is not a physically tangible object.  So how do you know it is real?  Well, God in His goodness to us has provided us for a way to know our faith is real, to stand before him with something tangible in our hand, to have that definitive proof of the reality of our faith.  We see this in I Peter 1:6-7, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 

Think about it!  Your enduring trials, your being faithful to God when under duress, your being wounded in some way as you remain godly in your circumstances, your paying a price because of your love for the Savior become the red badge of your faith. Just as the young boy in the story could look at that bloody bandage and rejoice because his courage had been proven, so we too can look at the trials that have proved our faith and rejoice in the knowledge that our faith has stood the test, and that we will stand before the Lord when He comes with tangible evidence of our faith in Him and love for Him.  Yes, we will quote the Psalm that God is good and does good, but have you ever considered the goodness of the Lord in using trials to give us not only the confidence that our faith is real and has substance to it; but also that He is good by giving us trials to hold in our hand, that prove our faith, on that great day when we appear before Him?

In Genesis 22:12 God has this to say to Abraham after He stopped Abraham from plunging the knife into the breast of the son, who was not only the son of promise, but the son in whom all the promises of God were to be fulfilled, "...for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."  Yes, Peter was correct, the proof of our faith is truly more precious than gold.  Gold perishes, but the proof of our faith does not, and we will always wear its red badge, not only before men, but more importantly, before God.

Lord, we want to close in thanking You for using trials in this way.  Thank You for the proof of our faith that trials give us, and for the confidence that our faith is real that trials give us.  May each one who is reading this post have that red badge of faith, so we will not shrink back from You at Your coming. Amen.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Preparing Ourselves for Sunday

As we prepare for Sunday, let us remember
that what we do is important, not because we
are doing it, or because it is our ministry.
It is not important because of the size, or
lack thereof, but it is important because
 it is His work He has called us to do.
Keeping that in mind is part of 
preparing ourselves for Sunday.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Peace of Christ and Us

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not
let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
John 14:27

However, this peace, the peace of Christ, is not a peace at the expense of righteousness, or peace at the expense of the truth. It does not compromise righteousness or truth, but instead it is a peace at the expense of the self, at the expense of personal "rights", at the expense of personal desires, at the expense of personal comfort. It is a peace at the expense of personal ambitions, personal glory, at the expense of personal achievements, or personal recognition. It is peace because we have given up ourselves, and is part of taking up our cross daily and following after (living in like manner) Him, who gave Himself up.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for
 they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God's Lovingkindness in Psalm 119

This is a repost, and, really, a timely reminder for us all.

Lovingkindness, hesed in the Hebrew, is one of my favorite words in the Scriptures.  It is part of the Lord's self-revelatory declaration in Exodus 34:6, where not only does the Lord declare that He possesses it, but that He abounds in it.  It is a vastly rich and nuanced word, and has a depth of meaning and a breadth of application as you can see through its use in the OT.  Read through its definition in a good Hebrew Lexicon and you will see what I mean.  

What makes it this way, though, is pretty simple when we boil it down to its essence.  Lovingkindness is God's love in action.  It is His love exhibited in and through His actions towards His own.  It is His strength, mercy, compassion, grace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, steadfastness, commitment, gentleness, benevolence, truthfulness, and favor towards His children, those with whom He is in covenant.  We see it expressed in the command in I John 3:18, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth."  God loves in deed and in truth...His love in action...and we are to love as He loves; in other words, we are to express His love through our actions.  We also see an example of this in Ephesians 2:4-5"But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ." His love for us moved Him to be merciful to us and make us alive in Christ, despite our sinfulness.  So we see His lovingkindness toward us in His saving us.  His love was put into action to bring about our salvation, and His love was expressed through His mercy toward us.

The Psalms, especially Psalm 136 are replete with the use of lovingkindness.  It is also used seven times in Psalm 119, and I want us to go through those and see how it relates to the Word of God.

Psalm 119:41...God's lovingkindnesses (notice the plural) come to us in salvation, and that salvation according to His Word.

Psalm 119:64...The earth is full, overflowing with the lovingkindness of God.  God has built His lovingkindness into the earth and all it contains, and all that is available to man in and through His creation.  The knowledge of the Word helps us understand and appreciate all He has provided for us in this world.  Reminds me of I Timothy 6:17...God supplies us with all things richly to enjoy, and He does this through His creation, and it is part of His lovingkindness towards us.

Psalm 119:76...The comfort that His Word brings to us, in any and all circumstances, is part of His lovingkindness to us.  God wants us to be comforted and has provided that through His Word of truth.

Psalm 119:88...God's lovingkindness renews, refreshes, and revitalizes us so that we will be strengthened to keep His word.

Psalm 119:124...Not only does God deal with us according to His Word (Psalm 119:65), but dealing with us according to His Word is also dealing with us according to His lovingkindness; and in His dealings with us, He teaches us His Word.  His teaching us His Word, the taking of the Word and making it part of the fabric of our life, is His love in action towards us.  Psalm 51:6 tells us that God desires truth in our innermost being and as part of His lovingkindness towards us He takes His truth and makes it a part of us.  Wow!  What a blessing!  What a God!

Psalm 119:149...His hearing our voice is due to His lovingkindness towards us.  In another Psalm it tells  us that He inclines His ear to hear our prayer.  God's response to our prayer is in accord with His lovingkindness, and in accordance with His Word through which we are refreshed, renewed, and revitalized.

Psalm 119:159...Here the Psalmist is saying, "Lord, in the exercise of Your love for me, take into account my love for Your Word, and deal with me accordingly."  What great faith and confidence the Psalmist has in the lovingkindness of God towards him, a confidence founded and grounded in the Word of God.  This is a man who knows and trusts his God because He knows and believes God's Word.  A great example for us.

In Psalm 34:8 we are exhorted to taste and see that the Lord is good.  In Psalm 119:68 we see that the Lord is good and does good.  His goodness is expressed toward us in His acts of lovingkindness, in other words, His lovingkindness is good, and He does not withhold it from us, but lavishes it upon us.  This begins with our salvation, and will be continued in the ages to come as He shows the surpassing (which means it is more than we can comprehend) riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).  

Father, You indeed abound in lovingkindness, and Your lovingkindnesses are as infinite and grand as You are.  So help us to know and understand Your lovingkindnesses toward us.  Cause us to see them.  Help us to not take them for granted; and may we be grateful now and for all eternity for Your active love for us.