Growing Deeper

“Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live.” -Psalm 119:144

The psalmist begins and ends this octave with declaring God’s ways to be right. The Lord is righteous and just in His dealings with us. This is how we know we can trust what God promises in His Word and commands us to obey. God will never give us bad advice. He will never fail you. In our finite wisdom we may not understand His plan, but can still be confident He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). We may even make sinful choices and have to bear the consequences, which is why God has specifically given us the Scriptures to obey. He wants the best for His sons and daughters. What is for our good? Himself. It is when we look at the Law, see His holiness and our inability to keep it. We then realize our need for a perfect sacrifice and mediator to stand in our place. We need a Savior. God’s eternal Word leads us to Christ who gives you and me life forever through His shed blood. There is no other way.

The second part of this verse reveals what the psalmist already understands. He cries out for more understanding because the writer knows that abiding in fellowship with the Lord leads to life everlasting. The psalmist isn’t asking for more head knowledge but for heart understanding which comes from belief. The Christian faith is a knowing. The writer of Hebrews describes faith this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1). Believers wait in expectation of what God has promised, as we live in the “already and not yet” era of grace.

I sometimes pray for God to become more real and lovely to me. What I mean by this is a desire to behold Him as my greatest treasure. I am asking for His grace to increase my faith in what I profess. Like the father in the Gospel of Mark, who asks Jesus to heal his demon possessed son, he cries out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:14-24). There is everything right in praying this ourselves when doubts creep in or we begin to go through the motions in outward legalism. Jesus’ response toward the father is compassion. He healed his son when He didn’t have to. God looks on His sons and daughters with a Father’s heart of compassion. What grieves you grieves Him. Jesus understands our temptations and the hardness of life. He knows what it means to be weary. He sees your God given desire to know Him deeply, relationally. I believe anything asked according to God’s will is honored. Yet before requesting to grow deeper, it is helpful to first examine our hearts. Do I obey what I already understand? Start here and ask God’s Spirit to continue His good work in you. The Lord has promised He would, so little by little, we become more like His Son, Jesus.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Isaiah 35:3-8; John 17:3; Philippians 1:6

Variety of Delights

“Trouble and distress have come upon me, but Your commands are my delight.” -Psalm 119:143

When I was a teenager, my depression was the darkest and most prolonged period I have ever known. The Psalms were especially comforting because emotions run high and low here. It showed me that God is not put off by feelings, they just need to align with His truth. What do I know about God to be true even when it doesn’t feel true? Looking back on that time, I remember the season as bittersweet. Depression is bitter, but I found God’s Word to be sweet. I was able to delight in my constant Friend in the midst of sorrow. On this particular verse Matthew Henry comments, “There are delights, variety of delights, in the word of God, which the saints have often the sweetest enjoyment of when they are in trouble and anguish.”

Those who endure trials, weaknesses or temptations might be disregarded by others. But I believe it is here in the valley that our faith is refined. A desert bloom is a wonder because something beautiful emerges under harsh conditions. Faith which perseveres in spite of the troubles of life is precious to our Father. He sees His children and has compassion on them. When our distresses threaten to overwhelm us, go to the greatness of God. Through His Word, He will tend to you as a Shepherd. He will gently lead His beloved children. You and I cannot fully understand the purpose in suffering, so here is where our faith must rest. We learn to trust our Father’s perfect sovereignty, power, goodness, wisdom and love, and that He is all of those things toward you personally. Dear Christian, whatever happens on your pilgrim journey will seem as feathers in light of the eternal weight of glory we will enjoy one day.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Job 1-2; 19:19-27; Isaiah 40:25-31; 2 Corinthians 4:8-18

Book recommendation: Suffering Is Never For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot

 

Contending for the faith

“Your righteousness is everlasting and Your law is true.” -Psalm 119:142

When Jesus was brought on trial before going to the cross, Pilate questioned Him. The governor couldn’t understand the religious leaders’ hatred toward Jesus, and tried to get to the bottom of it. Jesus confirms He is a King, but not of this world. He came for this reason- to testify to the truth. Jesus is Truth, who came to man, yet many did not accept Jesus’ message when Truth stared them in the face. Post modernists like Pilate still ask, “What is truth?” 

I remember reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in college. Several students were assigned a literary critical theory for interpreting the text. Based on which approach we had, determined how the student viewed the passage. I was given Deconstruction. Deconstruction is a dismantling of a text to prove there are many meanings, with the belief that meaning like language, evolves and cannot be a fixed structure. With multiple ways to read a singular passage, they can even be in contradiction of one another, rather than a cohesive narrative. It is the complete opposite of what I believe the Scriptures to be. This approach (like other literary criticisms) props up relativism over absolutes. All of it is complete nonsense, but a tool nonetheless used to drive us away from Truth. Affirming God’s Word as absolute truth is fundamental, but how Scripture is interpreted is also essential. 

 What I have found helpful when reading the Bible is first considering the author’s intent. Specifically, I believe the Holy Spirit inspired each man to write what is now the canonized Scriptures. Therefore, I know the complete Word of God to be trustworthy and true. Good questions to ask when reading the book of Isaiah for example would be, “Who is the author? Who is he writing to? Why did he write this book? What was happening in the writer’s world, personally and/or publicly? How was this message received by the original audience? Why is this important to read today? There are also phrases and places in the Bible which I am not familiar with because they are not common today, but were an integral part of their culture. Keeping a good commentary is helpful for understanding those idioms and ancient cities, which for modern day ears are lost in translation. 

Another great question to consider when studying the Bible is “who is God in this passage?” Even in books like Esther where His Name is not mentioned, the reader sees God at work saving His people. When we read any portion of Scripture, examining the character of God and His promises allows us to see His heart. The whole reason our Lord has given us the written Word is to reveal Himself. Ultimately God redeemed His children through the Living Word, Jesus Christ, for His Glory and our eternal good.

God’s Word is a beautiful and merciful gift He has given us. In it, He has told us His Son Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Gospel. When we speak of what is true, it must begin with Christ. Not only is our Lord the Truth, but He is Eternal Truth. Creation will wear out under the curse, but God’s Word stands forever. This is our comfort and hope. In a world hell bent on rejecting the God of Truth, Christians have a duty to rightly interpret Scripture, then contend for the faith in what we know to be true. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Be dogmatically true, obstinately holy, immovably honest, desperately kind, fixedly upright.” If God Himself proclaims His whole counsel to be truth, then this leaves no wiggle room for leaving hard passages out. It is either all true, or none of it is. Jesus is the Rock on which believers stand. He is the Living Word, eternally righteous and true.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: John 1:1-14; 18:28-38; John 14:6; Isaiah 40:6-8; Jude 1-25

 

Learned obedience through suffering

“Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget Your precepts.” -Psalm 119:141

The psalmist is despised by others for taking God’s commands seriously. I remember an acquaintance one time referring to a mutual friend of ours as a “super Christian”. I knew what she meant, however, I don’t believe there are super Christians and regular ones. I think there are obedient believers and disobedient believers. It doesn’t mean they live lives of habitual sin, but they aren’t forsaking everything else to follow Jesus (Luke 9:23-26). We all have blind spots of disobedience which the Lord will mercifully show His children in time. In general, we do what we want, motivated by what we love- comfort, recognition, popularity, money, etc. God’s grace to grow us in spiritual maturity takes a lifetime. But as the power of the Holy Spirit changes the desires of a Christian, it comes down to one thing: Obedience. Do we trust God’s known character and revealed promises in Scripture enough to obey His commands? Do you love His authority over you?

Praise God for His grace toward every repentant sinner. The difference between a Christian and the lost is forgiveness. Only through the blood of Christ are you and I forgiven. It is when we acknowledge our sin and need of a Savior that we become truly free. Yet being a Christian does not mean a life of ease or “your best life now”. Jesus said if the world hated Him, they will hate His followers too. The psalmist experienced this. Yet our Lord gave us His example for enduring persecution, even to death. Do not be surprised when fiery trials come upon you and people reject you because you follow Jesus. It is part of what it means to learn obedience through suffering for His sake. What tastes bitter now will one day be sweet. 

Trouble and distress will come but God is our everlasting comfort. He is the Anchor for the drowning and will not let you go. His hold on you is firm. God is more compassionate toward His own than a loving mother is to her child. He is faithful to guide us in His righteous way, so that we become more like His Son. This world is our sanctifier, Heaven our glory and Home. 

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Hebrews 5:8; Matthew 10:16-42; John 15:18-16:4; Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 4:12-19

 

Pure Love

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and Your servant loves them.” -Psalm 119:140

The things that we love shape who we are. Love means time invested. Whether the object of your love occupies your thoughts, words or actions, it is your energy and time being used. What we love will become evident to others as well. Can you imagine a young lady newly engaged and telling no one about it? No, she would share her excitement with family, friends and possibly, not so casually, blurt it out to the cashier ringing up her groceries too.

The New King James translation of this verse reads, “Your Word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it.” I like this translation better because it underscores the beauty of Scripture in a succinct way. Matthew Henry describes the purity of God’s Word as linked to His holiness and the power of the written Word to change us. He writes,

“Our love to the word of God is then an evidence of our love to God when we love it for the sake of its purity, because it bears the image of God’s holiness and is designed to make us partakers of His holiness. It commands purity, and as it is itself refined from all corrupt mixture, so if we receive it in the light and love of it, it will refine us from the dross of worldliness and fleshly-mindedness.”

It is a marvelous grace the seed of love God has planted in the hearts of His children. We can not love Him anymore than we can raise the dead, had God not loved us first. He has drawn us to Himself in loving-kindness, calling us by name. So now the Greatest Love Story unfolds with a new chapter which includes your story. It is better than any rags to riches tale Hollywood dreams up. The Lord has wooed every one of His people to Himself. Imperfect as our love is, God is patient and unconditional in His perfect love toward us. How can you and I get to know this God of love? This Holy One who stooped down to take notice of you and me, even giving us life eternal? We grow deeper in love with our Heavenly Father by reading His personal love letter, the Bible.

God’s eternal Word is pure and holy, telling us how we were dead and without hope. But God. God in His rich mercy, made us alive with Jesus Christ. Is this what you love? Is the Lord God your greatest treasure? May the Father loosen our lips to speak of our love for Him, and soften our hearts into a posture of worship.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 12:6

Keep Plodding

“My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore Your words.” -Psalm 119:139

Do not cast your pearls before swine. Those who willfully reject the truth of God cannot love and treasure the Pearl of Great Price the way you do. This is applied to those who continually reject the Gospel. Be zealous for God, but if His Word is not received, shake the dust from your feet and move on. There is much Kingdom work to attend to in these last days.

This does call for discernment with whom we share the Gospel with and for how long. Anyone who does not yet know the Lord is His enemy, as we once were. Praise God for His mercy that someone shared the Good News with you and me! Yet spiritual ground is harder in some places in the world and may take years to penetrate. It reminds me of the missionary William Carey. He could have echoed the psalmist’s words. As a missionary to India, Carey had no convert for seven years. SEVEN. Even in his zeal for the Lord and obedience to His call, he too grew discouraged at times. Yet Carey kept plodding, as he calls it, attempting great things for God because he expected great things from God. The Lord was merciful to begin a spiritual awakening in the heart of India because Carey was a willing servant. His zealous life became an instrument of grace among those enslaved to false religions and vices. His enemies became his brothers in Christ. 

The psalmist rightly handles his enemies by crying out to God first. It is a principle all Christians are to follow, entrusting Him who judges justly with our foes. My ESV Study Bible comments, “Believers are to be merciful, forgiving, and slow to judge, yet they should wisely discern the true character of people and not indefinitely continue proclaiming the Gospel to those who adamantly reject it, so that they can move on and proclaim the Gospel to others.” This is the command Jesus gave His twelve apostles when He sent them out to preach (Matthew 10:5-15). We are simply called to be faithful for today in proclaiming the Good News. The Lord may call some to serve Him long term toward a specific people like He did with William Carey. Others will be called to evangelize in an informal manner, with the people we see everyday. Some will be open to Christ and some will reject Jesus’ gift of salvation forever. Ultimately we trust God to work in the hearts of men. Trust and obey. Leave the results with the Lord. Some of our answered prayers and the fruit of our labors we may never see this side of Heaven. Be zealous for the One who loves you best and keep plodding.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Matthew 7:6-29; 9:35-10:42; Romans 12:17-21; Ephesians 2:1-13

Is He Worthy?

“The statutes You have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.” -Psalm 119:138

God’s Word has been tested in everyday living, throughout history and has not been found lacking. To truly live, our souls must seek the Righteous One. Only our Lord elects, redeems, satisfies and teaches the path of righteousness for His Name’s sake. It is for His Glory and our eternal good when we learn His statutes and practice them. Christianity is practical holy living which is only attained by the blood of Jesus and the power of His Spirit at work in the life of a believer. Only God is worthy of our worship which is why His people desire to obey Him. The Lord will then lead us in His goodness and mercy all the days of our life. And when our pilgrim journey in this world comes to an end, we will dwell in the House of the Lord eternally. This is His promise to His people. It is true and trustworthy.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Psalm 23; Titus 2:11-14

The Upside Down Kingdom Effect

“Righteous are You, O LORD, and Your laws are right.” -Psalm 119:137

The theme of this octave (vv.137-144) is the Lord’s righteousness amid the psalmist’s trials. His faith has not been found lacking, as God is actively at work refining him. Beauty from ashes, joy from mourning, light from darkness. This is how our Father in Heaven works. Jesus was born to die. He suffered to save. It is God’s upside down kingdom effect. What looks foolish to the world is salvation for those who believe.

In this section the psalmist looks for the Lord to guide him through His commands. God is his Counselor and ours when we seek His way, then trust and obey what He calls us to do. Because the Lord is all-knowing and perfectly wise, all He says, does and promises are right. Not only are His ways correct and true, but the Lord is blameless. Almighty God, sinless, sent a Perfect spotless Lamb, His Son Jesus, to the cross to make atonement for the sins of many (Isaiah 53:10-12). Why put your trust in anything else? We were made to worship and live for the Living God. This is the way to true life- walk in it.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: Isaiah 9:6; 55:6-13; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Some thoughts on Advent and the Resurrection

“There will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” -Acts 24:15

One of the reasons I like Christmas is the focus on Advent. Advent means “coming”. We know Jesus has come once to earth, born as a baby like the rest of mankind, except for our first parents Adam and Eve. He in every way knows what it is like to be human as we are. He grew up with parents and siblings. Jesus experienced temptation to sin just as we do, yet He never sinned. Only Jesus is worthy to be the Spotless Lamb of God for the sake of our souls. Yet the rest of the story still includes Advent. As Christians we know Jesus is coming again. His Second Advent will be different from the First, but it is the hope and glory for God’s people. We who know Christ and have made Him our Refuge wait for the blessed hope- the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

I want to share with you my devotional reading from this morning. It focuses on the Christian’s resurrection when Jesus comes again. This is worth meditating on as an encouragement to persevere in the temporary and wait in joyful expectation of what is to come. It is written by John Bunyan, also the author of the famous Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan writes,

When we rise and live we shall be changed into a far more glorious state than when we were sown in the grave. It will indeed be the same body though raised in great splendor. We will not change our nature, but our glory. Our earthly bodies without sin and infirmity shall inherit the kingdom of God. They will be raised with no weakness or sickness, but in glory. Glory is the sweetness, comeliness, purity and perfection of a thing. Light is the glory of the sun, strength is the glory of youth, and grey hair the glory of old age. To rise in glory is to rise in all the beauty and utmost completeness that is possible to possess as a human creature. Sin and corruption has made a mad work in our bodies and souls. But, in glory there shall be no lame legs, no crumpled shoulders, no bleared eyes, and no wrinkled faces- He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:21). 

Souls now in Heaven will in a moment come into their bodies again and inhabit every member and vein just as they did before their departure. Their bodies will be raised in power. Death quakes, and destruction falls dead at our feet. We shall stand with grace and majesty and our countenances shall be like lightning. It will be raised a spiritual body. It is this body, and not another. We will have the same human nature in every way though changed into a far more glorious state. Otherwise, it cannot be us in Heaven, but something besides us. If we lose our proper human nature, we lose our being, and so are annihilated into nothing. Therefore, it, the same it, that is sown a natural body, will be raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).

I have often pondered what my son Jesse will be like in Heaven. He has autism and developmental delay. What will his glorified state look like? I still believe Jesse will be Jesse, just without certain struggles he faces now. I have had people say they pray for my son to be normal. First of all, what is normal anyway? I know what they mean, but it isn’t a helpful comment. I pray for my son to be whole and complete one day. I look forward to the day when his disability does not hold him back but serves as an asset in Glory. But I believe his glorified body will not change his personality. I will still recognize him in Heaven and give him hugs and kisses. Ultimately, I trust God in how He has designed what Heaven will be like for His children. He loves Jesse better than I do. He loves each of His sons and daughters better. So this is where I rest. I hope for loved ones who have gone before you there is comfort in reading what we do know of Heaven and our resurrected bodies. Believers still grieve when we lose someone we love but we do not grieve as those without hope. There is brokenness in this world that also grieves us but it is not the end of the Story, praise God. As you close out this year and reflect, I pray you remember the Lord’s future graces. Meanwhile, there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all ours, with ten thousand beside. Great is His faithfulness.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; Revelation 20:11-21:8

 

 

Godly Sorrow

“Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for Your law is not obeyed.” -Psalm 119:136 

As the psalmist desires to persevere in faith and obedience, he begins to see even more the contrast between holiness and evil. This is a mark of spiritual maturity, when the Christian awakens to the sinfulness of the world and it grieves him. God opens our eyes to the stark contrast of what is lovely versus what breaks His heart. He is helping us see what He already sees. The world is on fire, rushing to and fro from one crisis to another. Like the curse brought upon Cain, Adam’s race becomes restless wanderers. 

Satan loves nothing more than to destroy or pervert all that is good. The psalmist sees this happening before his eyes and it moves him to sorrow. When others disobey and rebel against our Heavenly Father it should move us to grief as well. Would we not get upset if someone maligned a person we love? How much more do we respond when God’s honor is mocked? Matthew Henry comments on this verse noting, “The sins of sinners are the sorrows of saints. We must mourn for that which we cannot mend.” May we react like the psalmist, with a broken heart over sin in the world. This is why Jesus came and died. The world is not now as it should be, but our hope as Christians lies in what is to come. There is restoration for those who know Jesus Christ as Lord. Our faith will become sight. This life is temporary and not our Home. We long for a better country, a heavenly one, whose Builder and Maker is God. Jesus came and He is coming again. Let this promise be our comfort. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

Grace upon grace,

April

Growing deeper: John 14:1-7; 2 Corinthians 4; Hebrews 11:13-16; Revelation 21:1-5