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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deliver Us from Evil

James 1:13-15 "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

Trials often bring temptation. God brings us trials to strengthen us and to make our belief in Him and in His character steadfast…but He does not tempt us to sin. We are tempted when we are lured and enticed by our own fleshly desires. All of us have a war inside of our hearts between God’s Spirit who lives in us and: 1) our flesh (that is the desires of our heart that are divorced from God’s will for us which has been known to us through His Word); 2) the world and its philosophies and promises that do not line up with God’s Word; and 3) Satan, our enemy, who lies and tricks and wants us to destroy our trust in God’s goodness and love. These three things taunt us as we walk through life, and particularly as we walk through the difficult things of life. They vie for our attention, they make themselves attractive, and they attempt to distract us from the beautiful face of our Lord. They often come to us looking like cute harmless little teddy bears, and yet when we engage with them and feed them, they become vicious grizzly bears that devour us.

And yes, we often choose to feed them.

Here is an illustration of how this can work:
Imagine a woman who is feeling neglected and unloved by her husband. Suppose she begins working closely with a colleague at work. This colleague is well-liked in the workforce by everyone. He is a Christian; he takes initiative; he is kind to those around him. He is admired by many for his godly traits. He is also a handsome man. Like everyone else, this woman admires this man and her admiration for him is nothing sexual or intimate. The two are assigned a project that requires them to work closely with one another. They find that they work well together. They spend a lot of time together. She notices that, unlike her husband, this man takes an interest in what she is saying, he listens to her, he cares about her feelings, and he makes her feel special. He even reads his Bible, while her husband rarely picks up his. Through out the project, she begins to find herself thinking about this other man a lot. She sometimes wonders whether her thoughts are appropriate. However, rather than praying about it or asking a godly friend for advice, she dismisses her doubts as silly. Yet, she continues to seek out opportunities to talk to this other man. She tells herself, “It’s really harmless. It’s not like I am doing anything wrong. We are just friends.” But the more she allows herself to engage with this other man, the less clear her boundaries seem. She begins confiding in him, sharing intimate parts of her soul. One day, during such a conversation, this other man reaches out and grabs her hand—giving her butterflies. She tells herself, “We’re not doing anything wrong, he was just comforting me like I would do for any friend.” The next time they are together, they share a moment where she thinks they almost kiss. However, they both abruptly come to their senses and leave. Upon reflection, this woman realizes that she should not have let things get so far, and she assures herself that she will never let it happen again. She says a prayer about it, asking God to take away her desires. Still, she is ashamed to tell anyone in the Body of Christ about this situation and she is convinced that she and this man can handle things on their own—after all, they just need to exercise some good old fashioned self-control. They are both disciplined people. After all, they have both climbed the corporate ladder by their discipline and self-control. She tries to avoid this man as much as possible for a while. Seeing how hard it is becoming for her to avoid him, she considers removing herself from the project altogether. But she reminds herself that this project is her big chance to be promoted. It would be foolish to throw that away. She has worked so hard for it. So, she continues to work on the project, and things continue to get worse at home. One day, she gets into a huge fight with her husband about something unrelated. Her husband was so cruel to her. She is crushed. She needs a friend. She needs to talk to her colleague. She arrives at his doorstep in tears. He tells her she deserves better. He tells her how special she is. He tells her he would never treat her that way. He lets her cry on his shoulder—his strong, muscular, shoulder. He smells so good. She is so tired. Her tears have taken everything out of her. Gently, he lifts her chin with his hand and kisses her on the forehead (much like she would kiss a hurt child, she tells herself). Then his lips move softly to her cheek (much like she would greet a friend, she tells herself)…. and then his lips quietly trail to down to hers (she feels relief, she feels comfort, she feels thrilled, she feels alive)… soon enough though, she feels only emptiness as she stares down at the small mound of her own clothes discarded on the floor---discarded along with her wedding vows.  Stunned in disbelief, she quietly wonders, "How did I get here?"
While this may seem like an extreme example, it isn’t. Like this woman, we make our selves vulnerable to sin by:

1) Not praying consistently (not acknowledging our constant dependence on Him).

2) Not asking God to give us the desire and the eyes to see His truth plainly in His Word.

3) Not asking God to deliver us from evil everyday.

4) Not prayerfully reading God’s Word (asking Him to help us understand it, asking Him how it applies to our daily lives, asking Him how we are lacking in the application of it, and asking Him for help in how to apply it).

5) Not reading God’s Word in such a way such as to seek relationship with God. (i.e. irregularly picking up God’s Word; reading the Word as a task to check off during our day, skimming through it, not seeking both the big picture and the details of passages of Scripture; not seeking to understand it; and not asking questions of God and of others in the Body who know God’s Word.)

6) Not agreeing with God’s Word (making excuses for why His Word doesn’t apply to my situation, not seeking godly counsel to see whether this is true, or seeking godly counsel and ignoring it in favor of my own desired interpretations).

7) Not living in the light before God and man (hiding our behaviors and thoughts in pride—“this is no one else’s business”-- or shame—“what will they thing of me?”--or fear—“what will happen if others know?”—or self sufficiency—“I’ve got this under control.”, etc.)

8) Playing with fire (allowing ourselves little indulgences, allowing ourselves to flirt with the objects of our misguided desires—going to the mall to “browse” after promising our husbands that we would not spend money this week—searching the web for relationship advice rather than searching the Scriptures—choosing the checkout aisle with our favorite cute cashier so that we can “chat”—filling up our schedules with appointments and commitments that take away from the areas that God has called us to prioritize, etc.)

9) Not taking ourselves out of harms way—even when that comes at drastic costs to ourselves and to the desires that rage within us.

10) Failing to listen to those around us who love us and are pleading with us from the Word (thinking to ourselves, “They are just being selfish”---“They don’t really love me.”---“They don’t know how hard it is.”—“They are being legalistic and judgmental.”—“They are over-reacting.”—“That’s not really what the Word says” etc.)

11) Removing ourselves from community all together (by not engaging in it at all, by engaging only at a superficial level, or by withholding key parts of ourselves from the Body of Christ).

Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.’”

Heavenly Father, Thank you that you are good! Help us not to be lured and enticed away from you! Remind us always of your goodness and beauty—and how you alone satisfy us. Help us to keep our eyes focused on you in your Word. Give us an increasing desire to know you by reading your Word and talking with you in prayer. Give us understanding and discernment—that we might see truth in your Word and that we might apply it to every situation. Help us to set up safeguards in our life, so that we do not stray into temptation. Help us to walk in the light before you and your people. Bring into our lives people with whom we can be real and who will be real with us. Help us to speak the gospel into each other’s lives, so that we can help each other to apply the gospel to every situation. Help us to be soft hearted. Help us to be humble and to listen. Dear Lord, please lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the glory forever. Amen!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking a Stand: Impartiality vs. Neutrality

Today, I read the book of James. One concept that is discussed in the book of James is impartiality. Lately, I have been pondering the concepts of “impartiality” and “neutrality” in terms of evaluating what to do when we are a third party in a conflict. Here are some Scriptures that deal with impartiality:

James 2:1-13 “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

1 Timothy 5:20-21 “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”

2 Chronicles 19:4-7 “Jehoshaphat lived at Jerusalem. And he went out again among the people, from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim, and brought them back to the LORD, the God of their fathers. 5 He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, 6 and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. 7 Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes."

Deut 1:16-17 “And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's…”

Deut 16:18-19 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

Our sinful inclinations are to show favoritism often toward:

1) People whom we admire/covet for being wealthy, beautiful, funny, smart, well-liked, etc;

2) Those who can give us something we want; and/or

3) Those to whom we easily relate because of some kinship or natural affinity.

When we show favoritism to people on the basis of these types of things rather than evaluating a situation on the basis of the truths found in the Word of God, we are sinfully being partial.

However, the fact that we are called to impartiality does not mean that we are called to be “neutral” by not taking a stance in a conflict. Here are some interesting thoughts on the philosophy of neutrality from an article I found on the website Wikipedia:
Neutrality is not synonymous with objectivity. In a controversy, an objective person will not remain neutral but will choose the side supported by the most objective arguments. Objectivity therefore requires a choice, which is often difficult, whereas neutrality requires no choice. Note that in journalism objectivity is considered synonymous with neutrality. Neutrality implies not judging the validity of an opinion. Thus, a neutral person will provide a platform for all opinions, including irrational or malicious opinions. According to Dante, “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis”. Woodrow Wilson said, “Neutrality is a negative word. It does not express what America ought to feel. We are not trying to keep out of trouble; we are trying to preserve the foundations on which peace may be rebuilt.”
As Christians we not called to neutrality, but rather we are called to discern--through prayer, searching the Scriptures, seeking godly counsel—the will of God and to stand firm in it. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We are instructed in the Word to call what is evil “evil” and to call what is good “good”. This leaves no room for neutrality.

Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Sometimes our failure to take a stance in conflict has to do with our lack of sacrificial love. Taking a stance is inconvenient and sometimes comes at great cost to ourselves. Sometimes we give blind deference to people simply because of our past experience with them. This fails to account for the depravity and fallibility of man. No person is correct in all his actions and all his judgments in all things. God, however, is always correct in all His actions and all His judgments in all things.

For this reason, God’s Word should be our ultimate guide when we evaluate conflict, and we must fight to live by it and uphold it in His Body.

Titus 2:1-5 “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.5 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you that your ways are perfect and they are the path of all that is righteous and true. Help us to seek you in all that we do. Help us to discern right and wrong through prayer, study of your Word, and the counsel of Biblical community. Give us sacrificial love, courage, and dedication to you so that we might be impartial and yet not neutral. Give us wisdom and discernment so that we may follow you and take the stance you would have us take in all things. Help us all to fight for your truth. Help us to be peacemakers who are always true to you in all things. I ask this in Jesus Name, Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Christ Alone Lyrics

We sang this song in church, and it brought me to tears. 

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found,

He is my light, my strength, my song;

this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,

firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My Comforter, my All in All,

here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh

Fullness of God in helpless babe!

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones he came to save:

Till on that cross as Jesus died,

The wrath of God was satisfied -

For every sin on Him was laid;

Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay

Light of the world by darkness slain:

Then bursting forth in glorious Day

Up from the grave he rose again!

And as He stands in victory

Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,

For I am His and He is mine -

Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,

This is the power of Christ in me;

From life's first cry to final breath.

Jesus commands my destiny.

No power of hell, no scheme of man,

Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Till He returns or calls me home,

Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Praying Life

I recently read "A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World" by Paul Miller.  It was so beautifully written that I underlined thoughts on nearly every page. More importantly, it is the kind of book that has changed my walk with God. It has helped open my eyes to some incorrect ways I have been viewing God that have manifested in my prayer life. I have walked away with a better understanding of what it means to have a relationship with God. The book contains helpful tools for prayer, without the guilt and legalism. The author humbly, warmly, and humorously draws from his own life throughout the book in such a way that helped me visualize application as well as helped me simply enjoy the book. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of a modern day "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. I know I will re-visit this book.

There are so many thoughts I appreciated in the book.   At the end of this post is a little snippet from Miller where he talks about the role of biblical community in discerning the will of God in the details of our lives (this was not a huge part of what the book was about, but it was one of the many parts that got me thinking).

Praying and assessing our situation in light of what Scripture says is our first step in discerning the will of God in any situation in which we find ourselves.  However, consulting mature believers is also an important part of consulting God-- as Scripture tells us our hearts are deceitful, our sin is deceitful, and seeking godly counsel is wise and profitable.  Here are some Scriptures that discuss this concept:

Jeremiah 17: 9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."

Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Here is what Miller had to say in pages 142-144 of his book (I bolded the part that most struck me):

…we balk at praying, “God I want a vacation home. Would you get me one?” We don’t mind “acting” selfishly, but “talking” selfishly is embarrassing. After all, we aren’t little children anymore. A vacation home is so beyond the purview of daily bread that it feels presumptions to ask God for one.

So what do we do instead of asking God for a vacation home? We look at our finances, talk to a realtor, and go buy one—all without seriously praying about the decision. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying buying a vacation house is inherently sinful. God delights in giving his children good gifts, including vacation homes. But he wants to be part of the decisions we make. He wants our material needs o draw us into our soul needs. That is what it means to abide—to include him in every aspect of our lives.

Abiding is a perfect way to describe a praying life. For example, many Christians who are thinking of buying a vacation home might even pray, asking God practical questions, such as “Can we afford it?” “Will it be too much work?” “Should we make an offer on this house?” There are good questions. But we seldom ask God heart questions such as “Will a second home elevate us above people?” “Will it isolate us?” In the first set of questions, God is your financial adviser. In the second set, he has become your Lord. You are abiding. You are feeding your soul with food that lasts.

We can do the same thing with a promotion. It feels selfish to pray for one, so instead we will work for one! We end up separating a big part of our lives from God because we are trying to feel good about ourselves. As we have seen, we create two selves—a spiritual self and material self.

We also shy away from prayers like these because they invite God to rule our lives. They make us vulnerable. Like the crowds at Capernaum, we want breakfast, not soul food. Left to ourselves, we want God to be a genie, not a person. Scholars have pointed out that Jesus’ references to the kingdom are a subtle way of introducing himself as a king. When we pray the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come,” we are saying “King Jesus, rule my life. The heart is one of God’s biggest mission fields.

Oddly enough, we can also use prayer to keep God distant. We do that by only talking to God and not to mature believers. I can demonstrate that easily. Which is easier, confessing impure thoughts to a mature friend or to God? The friend is tougher. That feels real. We need to ask the body of Christ, Jesus’ physical presence on earth, the same questions we ask God. If you isolate praying from the rule of Jesus by not involving other Christians, you’ll end up doing your own will. Many Christians isolate their decision making the body of Christ, then further isolate themselves in their vacation homes. They say something like this: “Well my husband and I prayed about it, and the Lord seemed to confirm it. Possibly God did confirm it. It is also possible that you used prayer as a spiritual cover for “doing your own thing.” We can mask our desires even from ourselves.

Look at how Scripture and a listening heart are woven together in this hypothetical conversation with a mature friend.

Bob, my wife and I would love to get a vacation home. You know how pressured life has been for us, and it would be great to get away to a quiet place where we can unwind. We’ve found this beautiful place up on a lake that the whole family could enjoy. At the same time, we’re concerned with what it might do to our hearts. We want to be followers of Jesus, and he warns us against building bigger and better barns. Is this a bigger and better barn? Will it elevate us above people? Will it isolate us from people? Is it a wise use of our resources? Will we be limiting what we can give to others? At the same time, we think we could use our house to give vacations to people who can’t afford them. Tell me what you think.
Along with those questions, give your friend enough data to make an intelligent decision. Be open about how much it will cost, what your income is, and how it will impact your giving and savings.

One reason we don’t ask a mature friend these questions is Western individualism. Individualism goes back to the Judeo-Christian heritage all they way back to Psalm 23 and God’s tender care for me. When the Good Shepherd loves me, I have dignity and worth. I have value as an individual. But modern secularism has taken the Shepherd out of Psalm 23, leaving just me trying to create my own dignity and worth. It is my money; I earned it. I need a break. So it never occurs to me to include God or anyone else in my decision to buy a vacation home.

For more on discernment, see this post:

For more on submission to the Body of Christ, see this post:

For more on walking in the light in the Body of Christ, see this post:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The Law of Love" by Tom Ascol

I subscribe to a magazine called "Table Talk" from Ligonier Ministries.  I recently read this short, simple, concise, and powerful article in the September issue, and I wanted to share.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this article too in the comments section.  Happy reading.

The Law of Love

By Dr. Tom Ascol

Life is all about relationship. A significant part of what it means for us to be created in the image of God is to be relational. God Himself is a relational being. Not only does He relate personally to us as His image-bearers, He also has enjoyed perfect relational harmony as Father, Son, and Spirit from all eternity.

Our greatest joys and sorrows come because of relationships. In order for us to live as we ought, we must have our relationships properly ordered. This means that we must relate to the right things in the right way. God has not left us to figure out on our own how to do this. He has spoken very simply and clearly about the essence and priority of all human relationships. Jesus explained it when answering a question from a lawyer.

“Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). The question seems innocent enough until we consider its background and context. The Jewish leaders had plotted against Jesus and were trying to “entangle him in his talk” (v. 15). After turning the tables on them when they asked Him about taxes, exposing their ignorance of Scripture and God’s power concerning the resurrection, He entertained this question about the law.

Rabbis had lengthy debates over this question. They had divided the Mosaic Law into 613 commands – 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones. Their arguments focused on which ones are great and heavy versus those that are small and light.

Jesus dismissed all of those niggling debates by giving a comprehensive answer that both satisfied the inquisitor and revealed God’s overarching will for those who bear His image. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

Jesus’ answer gives the point and purpose of the whole law. He summarizes our complete responsibility in terms of relationships, specifically, our relationships to God and people. The essence of all our relationships, He says, is love.

The first priority of love is God Himself. We are to love God comprehensively and supremely. Heart, soul, and mind are each qualified by “all,” indicating that we are obligated to love God with every part of every faculty that we possess.

What does such love look like? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So obedience is closely connected to loving the Lord, but it is not enough to say that they are the same thing. Love is more than an act of the will. It includes that, but it first arises in the affections.

John makes this connection in 1 John 5:3 where he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Loving God involves keeping His commandments – not as a burden but as a delight. More than a dozen times this attitude of delighting in God’s law is expressed in Psalm 119.

Augustine described the love that we are to have for God as “the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God.” To love God is to enjoy Him above everything and everyone else and out of that joy to live in glad obedience to His will.

But Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to teach us that, after loving God supremely, our next greatest responsibility is to love people sincerely. Contrary to what some teach about this, Jesus is not commanding self-love. Nor should His words be taken to imply that we cannot love others until we learn to love ourselves.

Jesus assumes that we already do love ourselves. Paul explicitly makes this point by noting that “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). This kind of natural self-love is manifested by the choices that we make to serve our own interests. No matter how destructive such choices are, they are expressions of self-love.

Once we understand the inevitability of self-love, Jesus’ command that we love others as much as we love ourselves becomes incredibly broad. The health, comfort, companionship, and benefits that I desire for myself I am also to desire for my neighbors.

This means that while I must never love people – even my closest relations – more than God, I must love them as much as I love myself.

All of this, of course, shows how completely dependent we are on the grace of Jesus Christ. We cannot love God supremely or people sincerely apart from His love first reaching us through the power of the Gospel. Only as we are so loved will we be set free to love in return.

Dr. Tom Ascol is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, and executive director of Founders Ministries.

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine, September 2008, Website:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Prayers for Ella

Please pray for our dear friends, Greg and Stephanie. Their 4 year old daughter, Ella is a bright, vibrant, sweet, and beautiful little girl. She was just diagnosed with cancer a couple days ago. She is at Children's Hospital right now in surgery to remove a tumor in her abdomen as I type this. Greg and Steph just adopted an infant boy this month from Ethiopia. His name is Biniyam. Please pray for our friends--for complete healing for Ella; for Ella's comfort during the surgery/recovery/chemo; that Ella would experience Jesus in strong and tangible ways; that Greg, Stephanie, Biniyam and the rest of the family would also experience Jesus in strong and tangible ways; for faith, courage, peace, hope in this difficult time; and for the Lord to show all of us how to express His love for them in concrete ways. This family is so dear to Kristian and me--because of the history of friendship we have with them and because they are truly some of the most kind and generous hearted people we know. They are simply amazing parents to their children. We admire them in so many ways. Thank you for praying for our friends. For updates, here is a link to their blog:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Encouraging Promises to Help Us Persevere in Any Situation

1) God loves you and will never forsake you.

Romans 8:31-39 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

2) God works ALL THINGS, even the ugliest things for your good. If you love Him, there is nothing that will come into your life that will not eventually benefit you (i.e. be a tool used to conform you to the glorious image of our Lord Jesus).

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

3) The suffering in this life has a purpose (see also above) and is completely in the sovereign hands of your good God, AND the suffering in this life is not worth comparing to what is in store for you.

Romans 8:18-25 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

4) God is enough for you and He is worth losing everything else!!!

Phil 4:19-20 “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

Matthew 10:39 “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Psalm 84
84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place,O Lord of hosts!

2 My soul longs, yes, faintsfor the courts of the Lord;my heart and flesh sing for joyto the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts,my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,ever singing your praise!

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion .

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion .

8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!

9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is betterthan a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my Godthan dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

5) He is the God for whom ALL things are possible. God asks us to forsake the fleshly desires of our heart, this world, and our enemy in order to gain HIM instead. This seems impossible sometimes, but Jesus tells us all things are possible with God! Don’t forget, God can do this!:

Matthew 19:16 -29 “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God .” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel . 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

6) You have free access to the Father through Jesus. Your Father in heaven loves you and wants you to ask Him to meet all your needs, just like a child would ask a parent. He wants you to trust Him like a little child trusts her parent. Your Heavenly Father wants relationship with you and wants you to persist in trusting Him through prayer. Your Heavenly Father wants you to remember His promises to you (in His Word) and He wants you to remember His character—love, sovereignty, might, grace, tenderness, power, wisdom, justice, compassion, etc.

Luke 11:1-13 “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.And lead us not into temptation.”
5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

7) Jesus is your perfect example of how to get through suffering and of how to love in the midst of it.

Hebrews 2:14-18 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 “ Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Philippians 2: 1-11 "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

8) Even when it seems too much to bear and you don't even know how to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf.

Romans 8:26-27 "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

9) Even as the world is spinning around you, you can keep going back to Him and His Word, and He will be your peace.

Psalm 139 "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with thingstoo great and too marvelous for me.2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the Lordfrom this time forth and forevermore."

John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Philippians 4:4-7 "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Respectable Sins

I just finished reading an extremely helpful, convicting book by an author I have come to really respect, Jerry Bridges. The book is called, "Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate." The book addresses our hypocricy in tolerating the subtle sins with which most of us struggle. Some of these sins as addressed in the book are ungodliness, anxiety and frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, moral self-righteousness, pride of correct doctrine, pride of achievement, an independent spirit, selfishness (with our interests, time, money), inconsideration, lack of self control (with eating and drinking, our temper, personal finances, tv, hobbies, impulse buying, etc), impatience, irritability, anger (toward God and others), weeds of anger (resentment, bitterness, enmity, hostility, grudges, etc.), judgmentalism (over differing convictions, doctrinal disagreement, and having a critical spirit, etc.), envy, jealousy, competitiveness, controlling, gossip, slander, lying, harsh words, sarcasm, insults, ridicule, worldliness (with our money, idolotry, our interest in the immorality of others--which he calls "vicarious immorality" in our obsession with tabliod and gossip magazines, shows, etc)

Ouch, is that list convicting!

While I might not fully agree with every application in the book, I found myself both convicted and encouraged in reading it. I came to see in greater measure the subtlety, depth, deceit, and vile nature of the sins of my own heart and the outward expressions of it...but I also saw in greater measure the vast love and grace of the Savior who not only rescued me from hell, but made me His daughter and has promised to transform me by HIS GRACE and the power of HIS SPIRIT!