Does God Delight in You?

The writers of the Psalms certainly anticipated the gospel. However, I have grown increasingly aware that their perspectives on a relationship with God reveal distinct differences from ours.

In Psalm 17:15,the Psalmist declared that his contentment in life did not come from wealth but in knowing that all was well with his soul and God.  I agree; but how does one know that things are well; how do we evaluate this? By our feelings of contentment?

In Psalm 18:19, a buoyant David gave thanks to God for victory over his enemies by saying, “He led me to a place of safety, for he delights in me.” How did he know that God delighted in him? In the next verse he said, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right, and being pure. For I have followed his commands and have not sinned by turning back from following him.” Is our righteousness the basis of God’s delight?

I don’t know about you but I have a hard time thinking that God delights in me. I also struggle with evaluating my relationship to him on the basis of how I feel or how much he has seemed to bless me. I am not being cynical or wormy here; just being honest about my own sinful nature and the fickleness of my feelings.

I think that this is where our reading of the Psalms (the whole Old Testament) needs to be informed by the gospel. Contentment and confidence in my relationship with God comes only when I realize that Christ died for me and that I am joined to him by faith (in Christ). Because God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for me, I have the confidence of knowing that I belong to him and that he will care for me unsparingly (Romans 8:32). Again, any confidence that I have is centered on Christ’s work for me and that I am in him by faith.

Martin Luther’s quest for certainty in his relationship with God was not based upon his performance or his feelings. In fact, the more he “performed” the more he became aware of his own sinfulness and hypocrisy, and the more he was terrified of God’s righteous judgment. He kept vigils, prayed, fasted, beat himself with whips, nearly froze to death in the unheated chambers of the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits where he lived as a monk. His six-hour confessionals only convinced him that even being sorry could be self-centered. Through the reading of Scripture he became convinced that his only certainty of God’s love for him came through faith in Christ work for him on the cross.

In summary, the Psalmist’s confidence of being a delight to God seems to rest on his sincerity and obedience. My confidence and certainty of God’s love for me rests upon the work of Christ on the cross. Thus when I wonder how God views me, gospel-thinking goes: I am in Christ and since God delights in his Son, therefore, God delights in me. I will hang onto this even when my own heart condemns me for God’s promises are greater than  the opinions of my heart.

 

Tuesday’s Important Choice in New York…

I have been thinking about the upcoming presidential primary on Tuesday in New York, where people in my home state will be making a very important decision. On January 12, 1723, on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City, 19-yr. old Jonathan Edwards also made a choice. He was serving an 8 mo. pastorate, fresh out of seminary, and he made this decision:

I [have] made a solemn dedication of myself to God…giving up myself , and all that I had, to God; to be for the future in no respect my own; to act as one that had no right to himself, in any respect. And solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion and felicity, looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness, nor acting as it were; and his law as the constant rule of my obedience; engaging to fight with all my might against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the end of my life.

What a powerful dedication of a young life; something that should be emulated by all of us- no matter how young or old . However, as inspiring as Edwards’ dedication can be, I believe it is made richer when read in the context of the first answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

Q 1. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A 1. That I am not my own, but belong- body and soul, in life and in death- to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

The confession in the catechism places any earnest dedication within the context of God’s gospel-work in our lives and not in the strength of our will nor the merit of our holy effort. I can work out my salvation with fear and trembling because God is working within me both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12)

Just a thought…

Drifting Away… (3)

(continued from previous blog…you may want to read or reread the previous two blogs)

What is this salvation that we are in danger of neglecting? The rest of Hebrews 2 (specifically verses 9-18) describes this salvation:

It is a great salvation that Jesus Christ has given to all those who continue to hang onto Him: the forgiveness of our sins, the transformation of our lives; the freedom from the fear of death; the hope of future glory; and a ready access to a God who loves us, cares for us and understands our brokenness and suffering.

So, are you drifting away from this? Are you floating down the river because you think you have found something better? You have to be spiritually blind, deaf, and mute to cash in this great salvation for the pleasures of this world which are shallow, insipid, and bankrupt in comparison. It would be like basing the stability of your life on the stock market or the wild promises of a political candidate. But as for me, the words of Rhea Miller describe my desire: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I’d rather be His than have riches untold; I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands; I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hands. Than to be the King of a vast domain or be held in sins dread sway. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”

Many years ago (18th century) there lived a man by the name of Robert Robinson. He was converted to Christ at the age of 17, under the preaching of George Whitefield. He became a pastor who composed several hymns and wrote extensively on theology. We do not know the details, but his neglect of spiritual things caused him to drift away from Christ toward Unitarianism. A widely-told, but unverifiable, story relates that one day as Robinson was riding in a stagecoach, a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn she was humming. He responded, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” (Christianity.com/churchhistory/11630313/)

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace;                                              Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.  

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;                                                                Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

My brother or sister, have you drifted away from Christ and are you neglecting this great salvation? Do you see the subtle signs of lukewarmness and apathy in your life to the things of God?  Do you notice a disinterestedness in Scripture reading and prayer, sharing the gospel, and caring for the poor? Do you remember a time when these things were real and full of meaning? Do you see how far you have fallen from where you once were? Can you imagine the disappointment of a praying parent or grandparent who once interceded for you? Dear drifting saint- the streams of God’s mercy are still flowing back to Christ…come home.

“Lord Jesus, forgive me for neglecting You, Your Body, and Your Word. I seem to have time for everyone and everything but You. I am floating and not sailing. Forgive me, Lord. Bend my heart back to You. Recapture my heart; I want it to be yours. Set me on fire once again to love You and serve You. I don’t want to float away! Hear my cry, O Lord!” Amen!

Now, get off of your knees and “fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Drifting Away from God (2)…

(Cont’d from last blog; please read it first)

Where will it all lead if we do drift away? Heb. 2:2- “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” The author of Hebrews uses the method of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If people in the Old Testament days received severe punishment for disobeying and consciously violating the lesser covenant (the Law at Mt. Sinai) given by God and mediated by angels, how much more severe will the judgment be upon those who neglect the greater salvation mediated by Christ? The word neglect or ignore goes along with the image of drifting; amelesantes means to be apathetic or to care little for something or treat it with little value. Like Esau didn’t value his birthright so he traded it for a bowl of stew. [The word is also translated as rejected in 1 Timothy 4:4.]

I believe the writer of Hebrews has in mind a rejection of Christ that is not characterized by open hostility, but due to apathy; of no longer caring or treating as valuable the salvation which Christ accomplished. Such apathetic drifting may lead to a complete rejection of the faith, which will bring serious consequences. How serious? Hebrews 10:26-31 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God… How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?… It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (cf. Hebrews 6:6, 2 Peter 2:21)

Wow, this is serious stuff! The first reaction of most Christians when they read such a passage is to ask the question, can a Christian lose his/her salvation? I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the question, but we must be careful not to overlook the main point of the author. Such a warning is here not to prompt theological debate, but to challenge us to wake up if our attention is not on Jesus Christ; that we may be drifting away to the place of rejecting the gospel we once claimed to believe! And remember the characteristic of saving faith is “if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” Heb. 3:14. The Apostle John says the same thing in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Thus John’s theme in all of his letters is on walking and abiding– of continuing in the faith.

If a person who professes to be a Christian drifts away from Christ and ultimately rejects his faith, there is no salvation left for him because his faith was not genuine in the first place. This is not because God’s grace is not sufficient, but because the heart of the once professing Christian is hardened and calloused to the truth. The dose (or the taste, as Hebrews 4:4 puts it) has inoculated them from the real thing. You can see this evidenced on Atheist websites where people stridently testify to their unbelief, many of whom once identified as Christians–some even as pastors. This is why it is essential to understand that the  characteristic of saving faith is its enduring quality; it lasts.  Jesus said, “…the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12, 13). I don’t think this means that we merit salvation by our endurance, but that endurance is the hallmark of saving faith.

If you refuse to continue to drink from the water of life you will have to die of thirst. If you refuse to continue to eat of the bread of life you will be doomed to starve eternally. If you continue to neglect Christ, the only means of your salvation, you will fall into the hands of the living God.

(finished in next blog….)

 

Drifting Away From God…

This blog is a study of Hebrews 2. Instead of one long blog,  I’ve divided it into three shorter blogs so you can think more deeply about each one. It deals with the very real issue of how we should think about those who drift away from the faith and what we should do if we ourselves are the ones drifting.

I want to tell you the story of a fictitious couple by the name of George and Georgette Jingling. Georgette was born into a Christian family and believed in Jesus ever since she could remember. She was practically raised in Sunday school and was an active member of her church youth group. She went to a Christian high school and then on to a Christian college. After she graduated, she started working in an office and met a man who swept her off her feet. However, while he was not a Christian he showed some real interest in religion and started attending church with her. He made a profession of faith in Christ just before their wedding and everything seemed to be perfect. She stopped working while the kids were young but then went back after the kids were in school. All along Georgette had been very active in her church; her husband less so, but attended church because he knew it meant a lot to his wife.

After the kids we all ole enough for school, she went back to work. She made a whole new group of friends who were not believers, and for the first time her faith was challenged by their frequent questions. Some of her values were scorned and she felt increasing pressure to conform to the behavior of her office mates. She grew increasingly tired of trying to balance the pressures at work along with family and church, so she started to withdraw from her church activities.  Her Sunday attendance became infrequent because it was her only personal day off.

Her husband thought it was great to have her home more and he felt less guilty about his sporadic attendance.  The kids didn’t mind skipping church since they hadn’t developed many friendships there.  Soon the family stopped going altogether and it didn’t even seem unnatural. One day George announced that he no longer considered himself a Christian. Georgette wanted to be shocked but knew it would be hypocritical since she had drifted so far away from her faith. And the kids? Who knows?

This little story might be a contemporary version of why the Book of Hebrews was written. We do not know who wrote the book, but whoever it was had a pastoral concern that long-time believers to whom he was writing were ignoring spiritual truth and were drifting away from their devotion to Christ. As far as we can tell, the probable cause for their deserting the faith was due to the increased persecution and social condemnation that Christians were facing under Emperor Nero (see 10:32-39). Thus our author’s challenge was to encourage, exhort, and stimulate these beleaguered believers to hold on to their commitment to Christ and endure to the end. Apparently, it is not enough to have once believed, but one must continue to do so.

I would say that Hebrews 3:14 is the theme verse of this entire book: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (NKJV) I have been in Pastoral ministry for 44 yrs., and I have seen many professing Christians drift away from their relationship with Christ and from the church, so I know it can happen. And there will be many of you who are reading this blog who believe that you are Christians but will not last in the faith. It is my sincere hope that God will help us all “to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith,” “to make our calling and election sure,” and challenge us to “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”

What does it mean to drift away?  Whatever it means, the writer of Hebrews includes himself in the danger. 2:1- “We must pay more careful attention…” Thus, the warning is to all Christians to pay greater attention (perissoteros) to Christ, who is the Word spoken by God in these latter days (1:2). The word for drifting (pararuomai) makes use of some powerful imagery. Picture yourself in a boat or canoe heading to a docking point on the shore on a very swift moving river. As you head into that spot, you need to be careful not to stop paddling or cut the motor too soon or else the current will pull you away and you will begin to drift downstream where there is the danger of rapids and a waterfall.  You need to pay close attention to the docking point lest you drift away. The writer of Hebrews says that the docking point is Christ and we must be very careful that we are continuing to move toward Him and not drifting from Him, being pulled away by the currents of life.

The people for whom Hebrews was written were facing the current of persecution. Maybe you are too. People at work or school treat you as an oddity because they know you are a Christian. Georgette, in our opening story, was facing some of that ridicule as well as the current of life’s cares and worries. Maybe that is your situation. You’re just too busy, so many things to think about, so many things to do and not enough time for God. Perhaps you are facing the current of the world’s glitter and attraction, or desire for fame and fortune. These things are causing you to pay little attention to Christ because your focus is on what the world has to offer you.

Perhaps you are facing the current of rebellion; whatever someone in authority tells you makes you want to do the opposite.  Your parents want you to go to church so that is the last place you want to go; they want you to love Jesus and that’s the last thing you want to do. [By the way, this is not to say that a person cannot be a Christian if they don’t attend church. However, the Scripture assumes and teaches that the church is a part of the God’s pattern for our growth and development in the faith (Hebrews 10:24, 25). One could argue that two people don’t have to live together to be married, but such a possibility would raise serious questions about the growth and development of the marriage.]

Perhaps you are facing the current of disappointment and bitterness. You feel that God has let you down, Christians in the past have hurt you, and life has basically dealt you a lousy hand. You are drifting away because you wonder what good it has done to believe in Christ or to try and follow Him.

Perhaps you are drifting in the current of guilt because you keep letting God down. You’ve tried a thousand times to change; how could God listen to one more ineffective prayer of repentance?  Yes, there’s the docking point; it is Christ and we must fix our eyes upon Him. However, some of us are not paying attention (not moving toward Christ) and are in danger of drifting away from Him.

What are we to do?

(More in the next blog…)

Wasted Pain…

Charlotte Elliot lived at the close of the eighteenth century and in great physical pain most of her life because of a childhood illness. She also struggled with bouts of depression. An old family friend once asked her whether she had ever come to know the peace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. She became defensive; upset that anyone would dare ask such a question, but after cooling down she admitted her need of spiritual help. She confessed her desire to receive Christ and said, “I want to come to Jesus, but I don’t know how.” Her friend replied, “Come to him just as you are.” She did and experienced the peace of God in her life in spite of her many struggles.

One Sunday she was at home unable to attend church because of her pain. She took a pen and paper and began to write these words: “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me. And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!” She published this hymn anonymously in a small Christian newspaper, and it began to gain popularity all over England.

One day her doctor handed her this poem thinking it would be of encouragement and she recognized it as her own. She began writing more hymns of encouragement and invitation. Her pain became the source of a deeper walk with God and a well-spring of opportunity for ministry to others. A century later a young man named Billy Graham went forward to receive Christ when this hymn was sung.

Is your pain being wasted? How could God use it for His glory and the eternal good of others? Just a thought….

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Rom 8:26

Further Thoughts on Celibacy (spelled it right this time)

The late John Stott, himself a single man, wrote these words about submitting to the Lordship of Christ rather than to prevailing culture: “How can we call ourselves Christians and declare that chastity is impossible? It is made harder by the sexual obsession of contemporary society. And we make it harder for ourselves if we listen to the world’s plausible arguments, or lapse into self-pity, or feed our imagination with pornographic material and so inhabit a fantasy world in which Jesus is not Lord, or ignore his commands about plucking out our eyes and cutting off our hands and feet, that is, being ruthless with the avenues of tempatation. But whatever our ‘thorn in the flesh’ Christ comes to us and says ‘My grace is sufficient for you…’ To deny this is to portray the Christian as a helpless victim of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to demean ourselves into being less than human, and to contradict the gospel of God’s grace.”

He goes on to say that “at the very center of our Christian discipleship is our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He cites the St Andrew’s Day Statement by the Church of England’s Evangelical Council in the homosexuality debate (1995): “We are called to follow in the way of the cross. We are all summoned to various forms of self-denial. The struggle against disordered desires, or the misdirection of innocent desire, is a part of every Christian’s life, consciously undertaken in baptism.”

And so it is that Christians (I speak of myself as well) continue to struggle with the desires of our flesh, whether heterosexual or homosexual desires. These “disordered” desires are certainly the result of the fall, but are not in themselves sinful. They may be the result of original sin and may be temptations that try and lead us to sin, but they are not sin in themselves, unless they morph into lust and then conceive into behavior. Martin Luther once described temptation like this: “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

John Owen points out in his not-easy-to-read book “Temptation and Sin” that according to Gal. 5:24 our flesh has been crucified together with its passions and lusts. This doesn’t mean that these are dead, however, but that we can consider ourselves dead to them (Rom. 6:11). In other words, our sinful flesh is dying the slow death of a victim of crucifixion- to the end that the “body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved” (Rom 6:6). We will always be contending against this crucified flesh until we receive our new bodies free from sin, but by the Spirit of God we can live a life where sin “shall not have dominion over you…” (Rom. 6:14). Thus Owen speaks of mortification (putting to death) of sin as the Holy Spirit empowered action of denying our disordered desires any opportunity to exert their influence over us. These desires may still be wiggling and squirming on the cross and calling our name, but the path of discipleship leads us to say “no” to their beckoning and to do whatever it takes to lessen their influence.

Many would call all this emphasis on celibacy, chastity, and mortification nothing more than legalistic aseticism. However, along with John Stott, I would call it participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and working out his redemptive grace in my life. “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and wordly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). Herein is our discipleship.

[Just a note to say that I’m taking a few weeks off from blogging, unless I get really inspired. Gloria and I are heading out to Alaska next week. I will still see some of you on Facebook or Instagram.]