Spurgeon’s Sorrows

Is sorrow bad?  How does God use sorrow or depression?  What does the Bible have to say about sorrow?

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In his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, by Zach Eswine, he colorfully aims to offer realistic hope for those who are suffering from depression. It traces the life of Charles Spurgeon and his own struggle with sorrow and depression. It might be unknown to many that Spurgeon struggled for much of his life with depression. The author digs into his writings, sermons and teachings and the Scripture to form a practical understanding of sorrow.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1 – Trying to Understand Depression.
  • Part 2 – Learning how to help those who suffer from depression.
  • Part 3 Learning to Daily Cope with Depression.

Reflections

Sorrow is allowed by God and at times comes from the heart of God. Therefore, it has its good purpose. As the author concludes the book by saying,

“Sorrows are caused by ugly things. But Jesus adopts them as it were. He brings them into His own counsel. The One who loves even enemies puts our sorrows on probation. He gives them His own heart and provision and house. Living with Him they reform and take on His purposes to promote His intentions. In Him, they reverse and thwart foul tidings.” (Kindle Locations 1847-1849).

The author dives into the life of Spurgeon and the Scriptures to help us understand one who suffered sorrow. The author adequately and sufficient dissects Spurgeon’s life and the Scripture to offer one who is walking through a season of sorrow hope.

In my opinion, here were some helpful tidbits and quotes from the book.

Sadness is not laziness nor sin.

“Contrary to what some people tell us, sadness is neither a sign of laziness nor a sin; neither negative thinking nor weakness. On the contrary, when we find ourselves impatient with sadness, we reveal our preference for folly, our resistance to wisdom, and our disregard for depth and proportion.” (Kindle Locations 274-276).

Sadness doesn’t always have a cure.

“In this fallen world, sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.” (Kindle Locations 283-284)

“Conversion to Jesus isn’t heaven, but its foretaste. This side of heaven, grace secures us but doesn’t cure us.” (Kindle Locations 382-383)

The grace of Jesus is our greatest medicine.

“It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us. So, we declare this truth. Our sense of God’s absence does not mean that He is so. Though our bodily gloom allows us no feeling of His tender touch, He holds on to us still. Our feelings of Him do not save us. He does. Our hope therefore, does not reside in our ability to preserve a good mood but in His ability to bear us up.” (Kindle Locations 392-395)

We are weak.

“The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” (Kindle Locations 218-220)

God has not deserted us.

“We plead not ourselves, but the promises of Jesus; not our strengths but His; our weaknesses yes, but His mercies. Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us. Our hope is not the absence of our regret, or misery or doubt or lament, but the presence of Jesus.” (Kindle Locations 578-580)

Find Scriptural language to describe your sorrow.

God is gracious to give us language for sorrow. The author dips into the metaphors of the Psalms to find language for sorrow. For example,

  • Psalm 88 – ‘depths of the pit’, ‘trouble’, ‘regions dark and deep’ ‘overwhelm me with all your waves’
  • Psalm 69:15 – ‘flood sweep over me’, ‘deep swallow me up’

“Even Charles’ sermon titles began to utilize the metaphors that Scripture offers for the sorrowing; titles such as “the frail leaf” (Job. 13:25)16 , the “wounded spirit” (Prov. 18:14, kjv), the “fainting soul” (Ps. 42:6)17 , and “the bruised reed” (Isa. 42:1-3). Jesus is “the man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). He does not quit us amid the agony of a fleshly thorn (2 Cor. 12:7).” (Kindle Locations 864-867)

Understanding sorrow helps us to understand the sorrowful.

“we should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison.” (Kindle Locations 952-954)

Jesus’ sorrow offers hope.

Jesus himself is the man of sorrows. Spurgeon agrees,

“The sympathy of Jesus is the next most precious thing to his sacrifice.” (Kindle Location 1092) Also the author says, “To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.” (Kindle Locations 1114-1115).

“To feel in our being that the God to whom we cry has Himself suffered as we do enables us to feel that we are not alone and that God is not cruel.” (Kindle Locations 1114-1115).

The promises of God fuel our hope.

“The promise isn’t a bare word, but the word of God.” (Kindle Locations 1292-1293) Again, “Promises aren’t magic. They resemble love letters more than incantations, statements of truth more than immunity passes. They often forge, not a pathway for escape from life, but an enablement to endure what assails us.” (Kindle Locations 1321-1322) (also see Psalm 138:7; 73:26; 145:14)

Good comes from sorrow.

“I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, – more stars, most certainly, – more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1799).

“I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light, – more stars, most certainly, – more things in heaven if fewer things on earth. The anvil, the fire, and the hammer, are the making of us; we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us; therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.” (Kindle Locations 1796-1799).

The chapter that I would like to see expanded or further explained is chapter 10 on Natural Helps. The author dabs into laughter, retreats, medicines, stimulants and teachings. While there is not one thing there that is meant to be the cure-all, there are a myriad of helps available to try. They aren’t meant to stand alone, but dependent on grace of Jesus.

Chapter 11 on suicide did not leave any stone unturned. It was a difficult topic to address, but a necessary one. Most authors would skip over the subject, yet the desire to die often comes with sorrow and depression. Even some of characters in the Bible expressed this. In the end, we are meant to choose life. I am glad the author touch on this topic and brought with it so much hope.

Personal Response

First, the book helped me understand a struggle my wife has had from time to time, even during our marriage. My wife has had seasons of depression that sometimes come without warning or cause. This book helped me understand that sometimes the causes to sorrow or depression aren’t so obvious nor the cure so plain. In the past, I’ve tried to understand my wife in order to fix or find a solution for her, but that hasn’t always been helpful or what she has needed. She’s more often needed a friend who seeks to understand or an encouragement from God’s precious promises.

Second, the book has helped me understand my own seasons of sorrow.  Even recently, I’ve been a season that has required endurance and trust in the promises of God. These were difficult seasons and I had looked at them in a new light, as I’ve read in this book. I gain a lot of hope in “the Man of Sorrows” and his grace that is sufficient for all seasons. As I look back, I see God’s goodness. This helps as I move ahead.

Third, the book reminded me to be more sympathetic and understanding to those who are suffering from sorrow or depression. Using the example of Jesus and others from Scripture it is clear that there is a purpose and example to follow. God offers real hope as he walks with those living within seasons of sorrow.

Conclusion

The book is an easy yet hard read. It is easy because the chapters are short and well illustrated. It is hard because of the content. If you are one acquainted with sorrows it may rub some old scars, but may offer some deep healing in the process.

I strongly recommend this book to any pastor or counselor who works closely with people. I also recommend this book to one who have walked through the valley or one who is walking with a friend through the valley. My wife and I read this book together. She says it is one of the best and most hopeful books on depression from a Christian she’s read. The book doesn’t give claim to having all the answers, but it does help one to get into the mind of a sufferer and the mind of God when suffering.

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The Future’s Work in Faith

When you consider your future it will have an impact on how you live now. In other words, eyes that are fixed on a future hope will inevitable impact where the feet tread today. When it comes to faith it is no different. Hope of the future has its work in faith.

God is sovereign and powerful. He shook creation and history with his presence. The image of Exodus 19-20 was not a small pyrotechnics show at Mount Sinai. God appeared in blazing fire, ear-piercing noise, and trembling earth. God said that if anyone but Moses touched the mountain they would be scorched on the spot. The people of Israel freaked out, Moses himself was afraid, and the people begged Moses not to experience God like this again (Hebrews 12:18-21). Who would blame them?

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” – Hebrews 12:18-24, ESV

You are invited to another mountain—Zion. The image of Zion is greater and more epic than Sinai. Countless angels will be there. Throngs of heaven will be there. Saints from all ages will be there. God as Judge will be there. Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant will be there. The city of God is a holy and awe-filled sight (vs.22-24).

No one will be able to run, hide or ignore the fact that God exists. On that day in the near and not so distant future you will appear before him who is utterly inescapable. He who shook the earth will shake the heavens. When he shakes it this time it will be a sifting. Above all the kingdom of God will stand and for this God will be praised because is worthy of all worship, reverence, fear, and awe. He is God and holy is his name—a consuming fire (vs. 25-29).

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:25-29, ESV

The future image of Zion is wowing. Even now, it’s quite the stimulus package for the imagination. That you are given a sneak peak at what is to come is meant to inflict you with great excitement and trepidation. Zion is meant to shake your faith and affection towards the God who is unshakeable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Read Exodus 19-20. What do you learn about God? What do you learn about the people of Israel? How would you respond if you were present that day? How is God a consuming fire?
  • Now read Revelation 20-21. What do you learn about God, Jesus and heaven? What awes you about these verses? What assurance do you have that these verses are true? How must these verses about the future impact your now?
  • How can we ensure that we are frequently remembering our eternal inheritance in heaven? What difference should the knowledge of this glorious future make to the way we live our lives now?

Jesus is the Greater Promise

When someone makes a promise they will often swear to keep that promised based on something like “my good name” or  “on my mother’s grave” (v.16). If they do not keep the promise then their name is on the line with the threat of their name being tarnished or trust in them diminished.

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:13-20

God is a promise keeper. When God makes a promise he swears by his own name because he himself is trustworthy and reliable (v.13, 17). He is the only one qualified to make an oath by himself because there is nothing greater to swear by than himself. He has never failed to keep a promise because he never lies or fails (v.18).

One of his most well known promises in Scripture was to given Abraham. God promised to bless Abraham’s lineage and multiply it (v.14). Abraham trusted God’s promise by doing what God asked even though the information Abraham had on hand was limited (v.15).

The promise given to Abraham finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus who was a high priest in the order of Melchizedek—a priest during Abraham’s day. Jesus is the sure and steadfast anchor for the soul (v.19). We can hope in Jesus because God has promised him to be our high priest. He has gone before us and sits at the right hand of God on high (v.20).

May you anchor your soul into the Rock called Jesus. Even in the stormy seas that batter you with doubts and despair, his promises are sure to the end. Remember, how he has been with you and has been faithful. As G. Campbell Morgan said, “I believe the promises of God enough to venture an eternity on them.”

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What makes a promise valuable?
  • What promises did God make to Abraham? (see Genesis 12)
  • What are some promises from God that we have that Abraham didn’t?
  • What makes God and his promises so “sure and steadfast”?
  • How does the author of Hebrews describe the certainty of God’s promise— the anchor?
  • What are some of the anchors other than Jesus that people chain themselves to?
  • How can you encourage one another “to hold fast to the hope set before us”?

Jesus is the Greater Hope to the End

With the advent of the TV, computers, spectator sports, desk jobs and early retirement, we’re sitting down more than ever before in history. Researchers calculate the average person sits 9.3 hours a day, which is more time than the average person spends sleeping (7.7 hours). So that means 17 hours a day we are on our backs or behinds.

Laziness is one of those undiscussed sins. However, the author of Hebrews unashamedly discusses it. He particularly warns against spiritual laziness. Laziness is a form of pride that says, “I don’t care what others (including God) want me to do I am going to do what I want and sit right here.” Laziness is a regression of faith.

“Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” – Hebrews 6:9-12

A church or community of faith becomes lazy when we allow erroneous teaching to infiltrate the church and do nothing about it. While the church may have started strong, it slowly slipped into passiveness and procrastination. Spiritual laziness is not caring about the wonderful promises we have now and later through our salvation and not protecting or promoting it to the next generation.

The best way to progress in your faith and prevent spiritual regression is to serve one another. Help one another to stand, exercise your minds, and fight for truth. That takes effort, but in the long run it will guard you and the community from spiritual lethargy. Serving one another is a sure remedy, but not the sole remedy.

The author of Hebrews has no intention to scare his brothers and sisters into changing, but to assure them of the greater hope that is to come. Better things are to come. Better things for those who wait and hope in God’s promises from now until the end of time.

Jesus is a greater hope than my hope in leisure, ease, or unmet desires. Jesus not only redeems our souls from the pit, he also redeems all aspects of our lives—our time, our attitude, and our work ethic. Look to Christ and invite him to redeem your life and to redeem your time.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are some ways Christians have become faith-lazy today? What are some examples of spiritual regression you’ve witnessed in the church?
  • What are the marks of spiritual “progression?
  • What can lead one to lack patience or lose assurance of hope until the end?
  • What “better things” or promises we will inherit in the end?
  • Who are some biblical examples worth imitating and that encourage you to have faith and patience to the end?
  • How does serving one another often remedy spiritual laziness?

Jesus is the Greater Hope

Before 1849 California was declared a waste land and said to have the least resources of any place on the North American continent. That was until the gold rush. Thousands of people left family and home in the hope of striking it rich. Some did, but most didn’t. The gold rush left many more impoverished and hopeless than before. For many California was indeed a waste.

Everyone is in search of hope. Yet we live in a world of pain, disappointment, doubt, and hardship. God may even seem distant and uninvolved. Hope in this world seems fleeting and lost. Where is lasting hope to be found?

Everyone places hope in people. We put our hope in parents, spouses, children, friends, teachers and leaders. We are in constant search for vibrant life-giving teaching that will wow our socks off and stir our affections. While that teaching can be found, its content must never compromise the truth (5:11-12a).

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” – Hebrews 5:11-6:8

In this, the third warning in the book of Hebrews, we warned to beware of false and flashy teaching that sweeps in and takes the place of true teaching. Our ears often are drawn to the newest self-help fad or smooth-talker. The author of Hebrews calls dull ears to listen and become wowed again by the basic teaching of God, discern what is true, then move on from those teachings to other doctrines (6:1-8).

When one starts primary school he will learn the ABC’s so that he might read words, sentences, books— in fact, anything in literature. The challenge is to renew a passion for basics of faith, which are the building blocks to a deeper hunger to know the wonders of God and be wowed again by him (vs.12b-14).

The greatest and lasting hope in this world is indeed found in a person—The Word who became flesh (John 1:14). Hope is found in Jesus. His teachings are richer than gold for the soul. Dig into his words and the deeper you go the more hope you will find.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are the basics of faith?
  • How are the basics important to understanding the more complex issues of faith?
  • Where does our culture turn for help to grow wiser, stronger, and more mature?
  • What is the danger of becoming too familiar with the basic principles of God?
  • What is the opposite of dull hearing? How can you cultivate vibrant hearing? What illustrations in the passage help you understand the difference?
  • What wows you about God? What do you want to know more about him?
  • How can you stir others towards a greater hope in Jesus?

how the nearness of God matters

The last part of Philippians 4:5 says, “The Lord is at hand.”  Some take this to mean, Jesus is coming back soon.  While that is true, it also means God is present.  He is near.  It’s when our life is chaotic, when we don’t feel so happy about our circumstances, or when we are tempted to worry it is the nearness of God that matters most.   We know God is near.  Theology tells us God is omnipresent, but how does that matter when I need it most?

Philippians 4:1-9 is like the junk drawer of the letter (before you get in a huff let me explain), yet unlike most junk drawers this text is jam packed with treasures.  It’s junk that is valuable gems for your faith (e.g. 7 rapid-fire commands).  There is too much here to talk about today, so I will limit my focus to two commands and the intersection that brings them together which is the nearness of God.  Today we will explore how the nearness of God matters.

SINCE GOD IS NEAR I CAN HAVE REASONABLE JOY (4:1-5)

Paul has deep joy for Philippi.  He planted the church 10 years prior with a slave girl, a jailer and fam, and a business woman named Lydia.  Now there are others.  Paul addresses them all as “brothers” (v.1), not because he couldn’t remember their names, but because they were that close to his heart.  He proves it by using other terms of endearment like: “whom I long for”, (cf. 1:8) “my joy and crown”, (cf. 1:4; 2:16) “my beloved.”   Aren’t those encouraging words to hear?  Don’t you need to hear those words spoken over you?  Or words you should share over one another?  Look around.  Do you think of one another this way?  Is this the kind of affection you desire to have for one another?

Paul then changes his tone in the next two verses because there are two ladies in the church who aren’t being so affectionate with one another and Paul urges them to reconcile and encourages the church to get involved (vs.2-3).  Why would Paul care if everyone is getting along?  The first reason is that a divided church is a terrible witness Christ.  When people see Christians bicker, bark, and backbite, they certainly don’t see the beauty of Jesus’s Body or Jesus as their Head; they see the ugly reality of someone unchanged by the gospel, which is something they see everyday.

The second reason is that togetherness in Christ—a church fixed on Jesus—results in joy.  Paul says, “Rejoice,” and in case you didn’t hear it, “again I say rejoice.” (v. 4).  Joy here is not optional, it’s essential.  I like how Eugene Peterson in The Message puts it, “Celebrate God all day, everyday. I mean revel in him!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.”  Isn’t it interesting that this familiar command reserved for coffee cups and kids club songs follows a plea for conflict resolution?  Holding grudges, giving people what they deserve, gossiping about your brothers and sisters, gives a smug sense of satisfaction, but it more so produces relational emptiness, not deep joy.

If you are around Christians you are also around conflict.  Each of us are so different.  We have different personalities, different interests, different spiritual gift, but there are two things we have in common: 1) we are all sinners and, 2) we are all sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus.   Jesus died so that our greatest conflict (between He and us) would be resolved and it makes resolution between our brothers and sisters possible.  Joy is at stake (cf. 2:2).

It sounds so unreasonable, doesn’t it?  To rejoice always doesn’t seem practical or attainable.  How do you rejoice when your child is hurting?  When your marriage is rocky?  When things aren’t going well at all?  You got to remember Paul isn’t commanding the church to just be happy when everything is going well, but to rejoice in the midst of chaos, in those emergency moments, when you get that phone call, when it is most difficult to have joy.  You and I need help with this command, don’t we?

How is joy possible in those moments?  Thank God He tells you and doesn’t leave you hanging.  He says, “Let your reasonableness be known to all.” (v.5a)  Again, joy doesn’t seem so reasonable here, until you know the soil that joy is rooted in.  This joy is not predicated by your circumstances.  It never is.  The ability to have reasonable joy in whatever situation is because “the Lord is at hand.” (v.5b)

Resting in the promise that the “Lord is near.”  gives a future hope.  He is coming.  It’s a sure thing.  As sure as the dawn.  When he comes he will make all that’s wrong in the world right.  No more sorrow.  No suffering.  No conflict.  He will wipe every tear.  He will reconcile creation.  Yet there is also a present hope.  What is more encouraging than knowing the Lord is near to you, even right now? He is with you, always.  That is reasonable.  God is sovereign over your yesterday, today, and tomorrow..  He is loving.  He is good.  When everything in life is hard, nothing is hard for him (Jer. 32:17, 27).  In the moment of chaos, the God of the universe, the God who rescued and saved you, is not Himself powerless at all in that moment, is not at all surprised or shocked by that moment, is not reeling one bit or trying to figure out what to do in that moment.  That’s not what He does.  He’s there.  He knows.  He is with you.  He is in control within the chaos.  That is reason to rejoice.  That’s where reasonable joy is rooted.

May my prayer be like Job, “Though [You] slay me, I will hope in [You].” (13:15) or like Jehoshaphat, “[I] do not know what to do, but [my] eyes are on you.” (2 Chron. 20:12)  Or may my prayer be, “Lord, help me to rejoice in You in this moment.  Help me to be reasonable.  I am not happy with this horrific situation.  However, You are in control.  I trust You.  You love me.  You understand what You’re doing.  I have You.  I am Yours.”

What if you just can’t get along with your brother or sister?  What is the one thing you can get along with together?  The gospel—Jesus!  Learn to love Jesus more than your opinions.  Remember WHO you have in common.  The gospel makes what is irreconcilable reconcilable.  The gospel makes resolving conflict possible.   It makes Jesus and the Body shine.  And creates fertile soil for the roots of deep joy.

Few things are more fatal to your faith than the poisonous idea that joy in Jesus is optional, not essential.  Rejoicing always doesn’t mean there isn’t sorrow.  In fact, Paul says that sorrow and rejoicing can exist simultaneously: “… as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10). What Paul means is that sorrowful circumstances will come, and may cut deep, but the undercurrent of joy runs deeper still because he is the source of it and he is a river that never runs dry.

SINCE GOD IS NEAR I HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT (4:6-9)

Paul finishes his thought with something a bit extreme.  He says, “do not be anxious about anything.”  Anything?  Really?  Literally he means no-thing.  Not one thing is to be the cause of your worry.

Worry is the enemy of joy.  If you are filled with joy you are not filled with worry, but if you are filled with worry you are not filled with joy.  It’s that simple.

The questions is, “What do you have to worry about?”  One might say, “A lot.  Let me give you a list: my health and future, my spouse or lack thereof, my kids health and future, my responsibilities, that project due soon, travels, the holidays.”  And the list could go on and on, right?

But let me ask that question again, “What do you have to worry about?”  The answer: nothing.  Why?  There is not one square millimeter of creation or one millisecond of time that God is not present or sovereign.  God is near.  God knows not time.  If we worry about the future, may we not forget that the future is a place where God already is.

Paul says that worrying is worthless.  It doesn’t help the problem.  In fact, it adds to it.  Jesus says, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Mt. 6:27).

God has never failed you.  He has never let you down.  He may not have given you everything you wanted or run your life the way you desired.  He may have never taken your advice or considered your wishlist.  He may have felt distant, but he has never abandoned you.  He has never left you.  You have never been without his love and sovereign care.

Worry is what happens when I believe God is not in control and I can’t be.  But it’s so hard not to worry. I know I shouldn’t worry, but I feel anxious plenty of times about plenty of things. Like those moments when I’m traveling by plane and I suddenly realize that there’s nothing beneath me.  I’m thinking, “Whoa, we’re in the sky.” It’s hard not to be anxious.  Or that time you realize.  I am in Chad.  I am really far from “decent” medical help.  That’ll freak you out.  Also, I have three daughters.  Enough said.  Can I just be honest?  It’s hard not to worry about certain things?

Is there a remedy to eradicating worry?  Paul’s answer is also a bit extreme, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v.6)  Everything?  Really?  Yes.  Everything.  Literally he means, all things.  God wants you to bring all your hurts, pains, worries, fears, and doubts to him.  As we have learned, the Lord is at hand.  He is right there with you in it all.

There are two components to prayer that we learn from Paul that are important for eradicating worry.  The first is supplication.  Supplication is a “Help Me!” prayer.  It fits well with the encouragements Paul has already been teaching on lowliness, humility, and awe of God.  Prayer and worry are sort of the same.  They both rehearse the circumstances and chew it over.  In worry there is no traction.  It spins its wheels.  But praying is worrying at God and handing them over to God.  The second is thanksgiving is to be connected to the first.  Thanksgiving is a “Thank You” to God for his listening ear and loving hand.  Thankfulness is the worry’s kryptonite.  Thanksgiving and worry can’t occupy the same space.  When we come to God with a thankful heart even in the middle of chaos, hurt, or doubts, our worries flee like roaches to light.

And the result is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (v.7)  This means through prayer the worry I once entertained is now eradicated and replaced by a right understanding and peace that is produced by God and rooted in Christ.

Have you been there?  Yeah, me too.  In the past few weeks, these verses have taken on a freshness I haven’t known since I memorized them as a teenager in Youth Group.   Just last week I had witnessed a horrific situation that revealed worry and fear that had been incubated for years if not generations in my family.  As I prayed about it with some dear friends God not only spoke peace over my life, but he gave me a peace which surpassed all understanding.  Isn’t that often what happens in the hard times?  God is a God of peace.  He has no place with worry, but he loves it when we bring our worries to him with thankful hearts allowing him to Father us.  He knows we are like weak little children, but he is a good strong Father.  He is our peace.

When we live with a lack of worry about the future, even in those tightrope kind of times, we communicate the truth that our God is indeed worthy of our trust—our life.  Worrisome Christians are bad advertisements for the God of all comfort.  But if you have to worry, Paul says worry (or think) on these things, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (v.8)  Aren’t these each powerful combatants to worry?   Where does this kind of thinking lead us?  It leads us to Jesus!  Ultimately, we see these mindsets in Christ.  In other words this text is the action of taking, “every thought (worry) captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) And the result again is that “the God of peace will be with you.” (v.9b)

It is interesting that Paul concludes this section by saying “practice these things.” (v.9a)  This tells me that not worrying or having reasonable joy in all things doesn’t come naturally to us, but only happens by the power of the Spirit, by the the sweat of faith, by prayer, by doing life in community with other believers.  We have to practice this stuff.  This is the stuff of maturing in Christ.  It’s part of growing up in our faith. Reasonable joy in all things and eradicating worry by prayer is a mark of maturity.  That is the kind of man I want to be and I am certain the kid of man, woman or child you want to be too.  And it’s possible because the Lord is near.

 
Reflection: Can you identify what robs you of joy or worries you today? Is there someone you need to get right with? Will you bring “everything”, right now, to God in prayer with thanksgiving?Spend some time alone or with someone praying together.

What is your response to who God is?

Those who have seen God are never the same.  The children of Israel asked to see the Lord of Moses, but when they saw the Lord they were afraid and ask Moses never to allow them to see God like that again [see Daniel 10:7-10, Luke 2:10, Acts 9:3-4].  In Revelation 1:9-18, John saw the awesomeness of Christ and fell as a dead man.  People who see God are left with an awesome, fearful, and unforgettable impression of who God is.

stop-drop-and-rollA response to seeing God is similar to one who is on fire.  What is the normal trained response or actions for someone who is on fire?  Stop, Drop and Roll. Just as that is a memorable way to deal with being on fire it is also a great way to respond to God.

STOP to take a long look at who you are and who God is. 

And I said:“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah sees that his spirit is on fire.  Hot!  Isaiah is deeply impacted by seeing God.  As he glimpses God’s holiness and glory he says, “Woe is me.”   This is not “whoa!” but “woe!”  In ancient times “Woe” was a pronouncement of judgment on those who dare disobey God’s Word (cf. 5:18-23).  It was a shot to the heart, a punch in the kisser, and a kick to the spiritual stomach.

As Isaiah gets a glimpse of God and he’s devastated.  He got a peak behind the curtain of the holy of holies and is found out. He’s caught. He’s ashamed. He’s afraid.  He speaks a judgment upon himself as if to say, “I’m toast!”  It’s not an understatement—Isaiah’s freaking out. He is no longer shocked by the sins of the king or Israel but by his own sin.  Before he pointed one finger at Israel but now points three back at himself.   He sees no ones sin but his own in the presence of God.  Isaiah thinks he’s toast.  He knows he deserves to be.  That he is still alive is a wonderful thing.

This is a good thing for us to see.  We are good at pointing of the sins in others, but bad dealing with our own.  We play the comparison game with other Christians and pride ourselves on not being as sinful as the other Christian.  Jesus said to the religious leaders who were shocked at the lifestyle of the prostitute, “Whoever is sinless throws the first stone.”

We are a people of “compare-ers.”  We compare our actions to those of others to see whether we are acting right.  And, quite honestly, compared to all the people in the world, Isaiah was probably one of the best people there was.  But when he saw the glory of God there was no comparison.  Although Isaiah was better than most people, he knew that he was filthy compared to God’s pure holiness.  Isaiah admitted that he was a sinner. He had no excuses for his sinfulness.  He had no one to blame.  He had no where to run and hide.

I believe there is a great need to reintroduce the word “woe” to our devotional vocabulary.   When you finally take a moment to look at who you really are and who God really is.  Our “Woe!” can lead to “Whoa!” which leads us to the next response.

DROP to your knees and receive God’s forgiveness.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said:“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

There is something very interesting and weird going on here that is being illustrated.  In Isaiah’s day, their was a pagan practice called the “washing of the mouth.”  wash your mouth outSimilar to washing ones mouth out with soap it was a ritual that took an inanimate idol and made it inhabited by a god.  The image would be purified and cleansed to be ready for a god to dwell in it.  The cleansing ceremony Isaiah experiences is quite similar, but ironically God chooses Isaiah to cleanse and be His spokesmen to the pagan idolaters.

So what could Isaiah do about his sinful condition? Absolutely nothing!  What did God do?  Everything.  God’s messenger flew to Isaiah, took a burning coal from the altar, and touched his lips.  Fire is used in the Bible to purify things (Malachi 3:2-3).  This burning coal from God’s altar was a symbol that God was the One who made Isaiah pure.  Only God can save someone from his sins (Revelation 7:10).  God did not just cover up Isaiah’s sin. God took Isaiah’s sins away!  Isaiah’s sins would not be remembered or talked about ever again because God took them away!

I am so glad the story doesn’t end in verse 5.  Isaiah is not left feeling the heat of his sin.  He feels the forgiveness and restoration of God.  He is not left feeling afraid, guilty or shameful.  He feels true freedom.

When Adam sinned in the garden there were three consequences of sin that happened.  First, guilt.  He broke one of God’s rules.  Second, shame.  He want to hide from God and cover his nakedness.  Third, fear.  Adam was afraid for his life as death was introduced into the world.

You might know firsthand the the affects of shame, guilt and fear.  Maybe shame seeped into your life because of a hidden or naughty habit, a relationship crossed certain boundaries, or a detail about you if uncover you would haunt you forever.  Maybe guilt got the upper hand because you felt like you’d never measure up to the standards of someone or you just can’t quite quit that nagging guilty pleasure.  And guilt manifest itself in depression, self harm, eating disorder, or blame shifting.  Maybe fear trapped you because of various unknowns, via threats breathed down upon you, or someone holding dirt on you that if leaked could tarnish your reputation and future.

We often look at guilt, shame, and fear as bad, which they are if used as tools against someone or yourself.  However, God uses them for good as a tool to motivate you not to go there again and to seek rest in God’s forgiveness.

Notice how God’s pursues forgiveness in Isaiah.  He he does this with you too.  He pursues you through the work of Christ on the cross that shed His blood as your substitute so that you might be forgiven and free.  Have you known the forgiveness of God?

Just as God took away all of Isaiah’s sins, God wants to take away your sin also.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to become the holy sacrifice that takes away your sin. Just look at what the Bible says  God does with your sin.

  • God purifies your sins by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
  • God takes your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
  • Your sins can never be found (Jeremiah 50:20).
  • God forgives you of your sin and cleans you from all wickedness (I John 1:9).
  • God will trample on your sins under His foot. Just imagine God stomping His foot on your sin! And God throws all your sins into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19).
  • “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

If you have not done so, it is time to drop your shame, guilt, and fear at the feet of Jesus who will forgive you today and forever.

ROLL up your sleeves and get going.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go…” (Isaiah 6:8)

Again, the verses do not end after 6-7.  Isaiah is not immobilized or handicapped.  He is not out of commission and sidelined because he has blown it or because he is a sinner.  Interesting, after God took away Isaiah’s sin, he hears God speak!  So often he is silent because our sin is like putting in earplugs.

What does God say?  After God cleanses Isaiah He commissions him: see to it that My people know I am forgiving too.  It is no irony that Isaiah’s commission is similar to Jesus commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20.

Commonly, commissioning follows cleansing.  Cleaning is God’s path to making you ready, useful, and humble for the task he has you to do.  One who is forgiven is forgiving and goes and tells of God’s great forgiveness.  That’s the goodness—the gospel—in a nutshell.

God was looking for the person who would be His messenger.  Isaiah didn’t hesitate.  He wanted to be the one used by God.  Isaiah sees who God is.  He is wowed.  He says WOE!  And God wipes away the fear, guilt, and shame of his sin.  Isaiah is pure and clean in God’s eyes.   He is ready to be used by God.

Likewise, Jesus came into this world to rub shoulders with people harboring loads of shame, guilt, and fear.  He came to free you from it.  He died for the sinner so that the sin would no longer have any power.  So that you could know the greater power of forgiveness and be used by God as an example of what God does through Jesus.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate (where atonement was made) in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured… Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:12-16)

Today you stand at the altar.  Will you stop and humble yourself before God and see him as he is?  Will you drop to your knees and enjoy his forgiveness?  Will you roll up your sleeves and let others know who God is?  How will you respond?  Let God touch your lips that you might taste his goodness and sweet forgiveness.

 

Coming up next: the result of responding to God in obedience

Previously in this series: God is

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

In Isaiah 6:5. Isaiah responds to his vision of God.   What does Isaiah immediately become aware of?   In other words, when you see the holiness of God, what do you see in yourselves?  Have you every experienced that before?

Why is it important to learn about who God is?   Why is it important to see God not as you want to see Him, but as He truly is?

What does it mean to you STOP, DROP and ROLL as Isaiah explains it?  Why is this important to remember as a follower of God?

not alone

Have you ever been picked last during the gym class lineup? In elementary school, I used to be skinnier than a twig, but as fast as a gazelle. You’d think I would be an ideal candidate for dodge ball, but all the strong guns and smack mouths got picked above me.

Or have you ever been ignored from participating in an important project at work when you thought you’d be the one for the job? Or have you been left out of a discussion at church when you thought you had the gifts to help? It might be that in a similar situation it is common for you to become angry, fearful, or lonely.

When Jesus died. He left the disciples all alone, but not really. Though He promised a Helper would come, He was nowhere to be found, at least to their eyes. So they did what anyone would do. They went back to work, mending the nets. They did not know they were supposed to carry on the work of Christ ASAP. Like little kids, who had just been asked to do their jobs might have thought, “You mean when you said, “Go therefore and make disciples,” You meant, right now? Oh!”

So after Jesus rose from the grave He came to His followers and gave them some last words. His last words were a charge to the troops, an assignment to His students, and order from the throne,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Like the disciples, you are not alone. You have the power. The power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. He goes with you always until the end of your life.

Jacob’s Dream

The story of Jacob’s ladder is well known by many who do not know the Bible. Jacob is depicted in song lyrics from Led Zeppelin to U2 to Rush to Huey Lewis and the News. Jacob is also a topic for motivational speakers communicating ones ability to climb the ladder of personal success because “the skies the limit”. The story of Jacob’s ladder has taken on varying shades of meaning and interpretation, which are a stretch from its original biblical context.

The story of Jacob’s ladder dream appears at the beginning of Jacob’s narrative. Jacob had just deceived his twin brother Esau by ripping off his birthright and lying to get his father’s deathbed blessing. Therefore Esau is out to get Jacob’s head and see him dead. So Jacob flees the Promised Land and the momma’s boy who once loved staying home was now driven from his home. He becomes a fugitive from his family fearing his brother’s ferocious rage.

The tension in the story rises as Jacob comes to a certain place at the sunsets. He spends the night out in the elements alone. Without protection in an unknown place Jacob finds a sandy spot to sleep with a rock for his pillow. The tension continues to rises as he nods off to sleep and dreams a strange dream about a ladder that the angels of God ascend and descend upon. God comes to Jacob in a dramatic dream in the middle of the night. For the first time in his life, Jacob encounters God.

How in the world is God going work with this guy?

At this point in Genesis, the covenant promises of God have been applied to the less than perfect people—from Abraham to Isaac to sinfully deceptive Jacob who stole both the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau. Jacob possesses the covenant blessing, but lacks faith-driven relationship with God like that of Isaac and Abraham. Jacob is not a God-pursuer [worshiper, believer]; he is a man-pleaser and self-gratifier. For the first time, Jacob is not living under the faith of his parents, but begins his own relationship with God.

So how does he go from Jacob to Israel? From trickster and deceiver to a worshiper of God? From a total goober to a godly guy? Jacob is probably in his 70s, still living with his parents, mom still washes his whitie-tighties, and has her pack his lunch box with PB & J. He’s totally a late bloomer with no wife, no job, allowed to underachieve, enjoys being spoiled, and has inconstant God-following parents.

The story climaxes as Jacob sees God in his dream. And no, it wasn’t a dose of spicy chili the night before. God speaks to him and promises to be everything that He was to Jacob’s dad [26:3-4] and grand-dad [12:2-3; 15:1-6]. The God of Abraham and Isaac will also be known as the God of Jacob. The Lord not only extends patriarchal promises [i.e. land, descendants, and blessing] but also adds a special promise—His presence—that the Lord will always be with him [and Israel] wherever he goes. The symbol of His presence is the ladder in his dream, which connects heaven with earth.

If I were Jacob, I would have wet my pants seeing God, especially after his sinful escapade. Jacob should have been cursed for all his sin, however God has grace on him and blesses him. In holy fear, Jacob awakes from his dream awed by the Lord. The change in Jacob’s heart turning toward God arises in his commitment to tithe to God as an act of worship to God [cf. 26:25]. Above all it is God who seeks out a covenant relationship with Jacob, which is the pattern continued for all believers throughout human history.

How do we get from Jacob to Jesus?

As Jacob leaves the Promised Land, God promise to be with Jacob wherever he goes. This is an important redemptive theme that progresses throughout the history of Israel to those who follow Jesus.

As Moses is called out of Egypt—leading the Hebrew people to the Promised Land—God promises His presence [Exodus 3:12; Deuteronomy 31:6]. He proves His presence with a pillar of clouds by day, a pillar of fire by night, and His glory in the tabernacle. As Joshua carries the torch of Moses and enters the Promised Land, God assures His presence [Joshua 1:5]. God promises His presence with Israelites kings [1 Kings 8:57]. And when Israel is cast int0 exile God promises His presence with His people [Isaiah 43:2; 41:10].

The culmination of the promise of God’s presence came when He was born as a babe with human skin and walked among His people. His name is Jesus. He is also known by the name, “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” [Matthew 1:23; John 14:9-10; Colossians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 7:14]. After Jesus rises from the dead He promises His presence with His followers [Matthew 28:20; Hebrew 13:5] and His Spirit dwells in His people [Acts 2:33; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19]. On the last day, when Jesus comes again, He promises to dwell with His people forever in the divine Promised Land of His eternal presence [Revelation 21:3].

The promise give to Jacob by God was fulfilled when God brings him back to Canaan, when God returns the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and when God returns the remnant from exile in Babylon, but promise is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ the Son of God. The ladder Jacob sees in his dream is a picture of God promise “to be with you.” God is not absent from His creation or His covenant people. He is intimately connected with His creation. The ladder represents His mediation between heaven and earth. Jesus even makes this correlation between the ladder and Himself [John 1:49-51]. Jesus is the mediator between heaven and earth—God and man [1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6]. Jesus is the ladder; He is the connection between heaven and earth.

The purpose of Jacob’s strange ladder dream was to get his attention. Once God got his attention, He promised to be with Him always wherever he would go. That promise would ripple to His holy people [Israel] and also in the Scripture later to His church. The promise of God’s presence is one of the most precious and assuring promises of the Scripture. This promise is meant to be a source of comfort for all His followers. God knows that His people sometimes feel forsaken. However, remember as Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20]

your faiths firm foundation

What do these names have in common? Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Babe Ruth, J.R.R. Tolkien, Beethoven, Mozart, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson. The only thing in common among all the names is that they are all dead. Now if I were to add the name “Jesus” to this list would it change your answer? Jesus died, but He didn’t just die—He conquered death. He conquered death through His resurrection.

There are many modern attacks on the truthfulness of Christ’s resurrection. Have you watch documentaries on the Discovery Channel or History Channel that dispute the facts of the resurrection? There are also many books like The God Delusion [Richard Dawkins], God is Not Great [Christopher Hitchens], or the popular book The Da Vinci Code [Dan Brown] that do not buy the idea of the resurrection of Jesus. Some people think Jesus disappeared to Hawaii where Elvis, Hitler and JFK are all hiding out in a bunker playing poker. Others seem to think that Jesus was swooned or asleep; He couldn’t have been dead and then resurrected.

How would you address theses attacks? What difference does it make if Christ had a bodily resurrection? Without a bodily resurrection all of Jesus’ claims would be false and followers of Christ would have no hope of eternal salvation. His resurrection is the foundation of the gospel and your faith. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity and its core truth claims would not hold any weight nor would your faith. Paul faced a similar situation with the church that he planted at Corinth.

You can have complete confidence in the reality of Jesus & His message [1 Corinthians 15:1]

Gospel. What comes to mind when you see that word? Gospel literally means “good news” or “breaking new.” Before discussing the good news, let’s discuss the bad: You deserve death; there’s nothing that you can do to earn salvation because sin condemns you to eternal death and separation from God. But the Good News is the gospel!

What is the gospel? The good news is that God loves His creation so much that He came down from heaven for you [Philippians 2:5–11], lived for you [John 14:19], died for you, and rose from the dead for you [Romans 4:25]. And if you respond through repentance of sin and have faith in Christ, He blesses you with eternal life [John 3:16]. Paul says that you must “take your stand” on the gospel. What does he mean? You must base your life on its truth [cf. 15:58]. By taking a stand for the gospel you are demonstrating confidence in both the Messenger and His message.

You can know the reality of the gospel because you can experience it now [15:2]

When Paul said, “by this gospel you are being saved,” he wasn’t speaking about something just in the past but something present too. The idea that one is “being saved”—while salvation is instantaneous—means you can still experience the power of the gospel on a daily basis. How is your life different since you became a Christian? Today you can experience the gospel in your decisions, your relationships, your school activities, your work, and your life—right now. The gospel not only changes your future destiny, but your present realities.

What do you think Paul meant when he said, “Otherwise, you have believed in vain”? He was emphasizing that true faith endures over time. In Hebrews 3:14 it says, “For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” An enduring commitment to the gospel shows genuine faith in Christ. Real followers of Christ do not give up when life gets hard, or doubts come like a flood, or you just don’t feel like following today.

Your faith has significant evidence for the case of the resurrection [15:3–8]

The detective shows on TV [i.e. NCIS, Monk, Psyche, etc.] solve cases by following evidence and eyewitnesses, and that’s what Paul did too—he followed evidence of the dead and of the living. When Paul referred to the witness of the dead; he read the prophets from long ago who foretold what Jesus would accomplish. Can anyone say with confidence who will be the president of the United States in 20 years? Who will be the hit band or movie star in the year 2145? Prophets foretold in detail Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection hundreds of years beforehand.

Fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies: Genesis 3:15 (the seed of the woman will crush the serpent), Genesis 12:3 (the seed of Abraham will bless all nations), Psalm 2 (the supremacy of God’s Son), Psalm 22 (the description of His death), Isaiah 7:14 (the virgin birth), Isaiah 9:6 (the deity of the Messiah), Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (the specifics of His death, including taking on our sins), Isaiah 53:11 (His resurrection), Micah 5:2 (the place of His birth), and Zechariah 9:9 (His entering Jerusalem on a donkey). These prophecies show us that Jesus is God and Savior.

Paul adds another line of evidence—the evidence of the living. What effect do eyewitness testimonies have on a court case? It usually serves to prove or disprove an event. In 1 Corinthians 15:5–8, we see other eyewitnesses to Jesus resurrection: Peter, the Twelve, more than 500 others, James, the apostles, Paul himself. Why do you think that Paul emphasized the testimony of these eyewitnesses? Eyewitness testimony is always more powerful than secondhand information, and some of these were still alive and could tell their stories [one eyewitness could be duped, but over 500?]. Both the living and the dead come together to build a case for the resurrection of Christ.

You can have the hope of being raised from the dead, just as Jesus was [15:20–24]

Let’s say I had a mystery bag full of food. Without knowing what it was would you be willing to try it? No body wants to be the first one to try it. This is like what Christ did. He tasted death, so you would have to be afraid. His death and resurrection give you hope.

Paul calls Christ the firstfruits. This phrase has its roots in the Old Testament, usually refers to the Jewish practice of offering the first of a crop to the Lord in recognition that the entire harvest belongs to Him [cf. Leviticus 23:9–14; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–17].  During the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the priest waved the firstfruits of the harvest before the Lord, and a perfect lamb was sacrificed [Mark 14:12]. Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus Christ was the perfect Lamb of God who was sacrificed to pay the price for your sins. His resurrection was a sign of the future resurrection of all believers.

Christ’s resurrection marked the beginning of a heavenly harvest of the kingdom of God. When Christ comes again, all who belong to God’s kingdom will be resurrected. How does that truth offer hope? Christ was raised, so you will be too. Death is not final for believers. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]

“Without the belief in the resurrection the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, His crucifixion would have forever silenced any hope of His being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of His career.” William Lane Craig

Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the heart of the gospel. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope that you have in Him is certain. The evidence for Christ’s resurrection is clear. You can be confident in your faith. Make know the reality of His resurrection as you live out the gospel.

Many times in His earthly ministry, Jesus brought hope to hopelessness. Every day, you see people who feel hopeless and need the gospel. Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church to remind them of the gospel. Write a letter to someone who needs to hear about the resurrection. Instead of writing what they need to do, tell them what you know about Jesus—and how the gospel has impacted you. Take ownership of what you know; write to encourage others in the gospel.

Jesus redeems man

superbad hero

If you could have any superpower you desired, what power would you have? Maybe you would want the power of invincibility, super strength, supersonic speed, or ninja-like fighting skills. Let’s say you were granted the power to have these super powers, what would you do with them? Would you do good? Or would you cause harm? We would like to think that we would be good superheroes, not reckless villains. It is interested to read into the lives of popular superheroes. Each superhero from Spiderman to Batman had an inner power struggle between doing good or evil. Is there any good super hero? Am I capable of doing any good?

here’s the bad news, but…

The gospel would not be good news if there were not bad news.[1] The bad news is that you are a deliberate sinner separated eternally from God and are without hope of saving yourself, but Jesus came as the eternal hope to deliver you from the punishment of your sinfulness. Now I am overjoyed that there is a “but” in the previous sentence. Have you ever received bad news with a “but”? As Greg Gilbert said,

“But. I think that must be the most powerful word a human being can speak. It’s small, but it has the power to sweep away everything that has gone before it. You have cancer. But it can be treated. Your friend was in a car wreck. But he is fine. [You failed the test. But you can still pass the class. You have sinned. But there is hope; Jesus has come.] Sadly, sometimes the but doesn’t come. Sometimes the sentence stops, and all we get is the bad news. Yet those moments only magnify for us the times when the but does come. And they are glorious.”[2]

He Is Your Hope

I am glad that God brings us hope in the midst of our sinful rebellion. Jesus is our hope. For centuries people have been looking for a hope only to be disappointed by not finding any, but the hope did come. God’s Word describes this hope as a Messiah who will come to redeem His people.

Adam and Eve around 4000 B.C. were promised a future offspring who would crush the head of the serpent [Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4]. Abraham in 2000 B.C. was promised a Messiah through his son Isaac [Genesis 12:3; Matthew 1:1-2]. The prophet Micah in 700 B.C. was promised a Messiah born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-7]. The prophet Isaiah in 700 B.C. was given the promise of a Messiah born of a virgin [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-23], that He would be sinless [53:9; 1 Peter 2:21-22], that He would do miracles [35:5-6; Matthew 11:2-5] and that we would be beaten, hated, rejected killed, buried, and resurrected [50:6; 53:3-12; read the Gospels]. This is just a sampling of the slews of promises with fulfillments given in the Scriptures. For you and me, there is to little doubt, the promised Messiah—Jesus Christ—has come.

The question is not if Jesus came to this earth. The proof of Jesus’ reality is widely accepted even among skeptics. There is little doubt that Jesus was a real life historical figure. But, who is Jesus? What makes millions of people follow Him? Is He really who He says He is? Can He really save people from their sins?

Who is Jesus and what makes Him so special?

Jesus asks a very good question to His followers, “Who do you Say I am?” [Mark 8:29] Is He just some dude, spiritual sage, good religious teacher or prophet? When we take the time to dive into the life of Jesus we see that He is certainly more than a timeless superhero that did good for the people of planet earth. When Jesus came he was not wearing a cape, he didn’t have a catchy logo or cool theme song. He was not a motivational speaker with a message declaring the power of positive thinking. He is not the pasty white religious guru you see characterized on Family Guy, South Park or the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which take no shame in crossing the line of blasphemy and heresy. This is how the Bible describes Jesus:

Jesus is man. He was born a crying, diaper-filling, thumb sucking, cute-faced baby [Lk.1:34-35]. However, He did not have a normal birth because He was born of a virgin and His daddy was God the Father. He had a miraculous one-of-a-kind birth and sinless life.

Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro-wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of hot pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit.[3]

The Bible also tells us that He grew as a wise manly man [Luke 2:52]. Like my stepdad, he swung a hammer and built things with His carpenter’s hands [Mark 6:3]. He hurt [Matthew 26:37], He had humor [Mark 4:21], He cried [John 11:35], He was tired [Matthew 8:24], He got mad [Matthew 21:12], He had compassion [Luke 7:13], He felt betrayed [Matthew 26:47-50], He was tempted to sin [Matthew 4:1-10], He was hungry and thirsty [John 4:7; 19:28], He felt pain, and He died [Luke 23:46]. Jesus was a real man through and through from His blood to His bones to His breathe.

Jesus is God. [John 1:1, 14]. He claimed it [John 8:58-59; 14:6], His miracles claimed it [Mark 4:41; John 10:36-39], others claimed it [Matthew 16:16], and God claim it, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.” [Matthew 3:17] Jesus offered people forgiveness of sins [Luke 5:20-21; 7:48], asked people to worship and pray to Him [John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:24], and lived sinlessly to prove it [John 8:46]. Anyone who claimed to do these things would either be as C.S. Lewis said, “be a liar, lunatic, or Lord”[4]

Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King. He holds all three offices, and He holds them effectively and perfectly. As prophet He tells the truth about your life and future. At least 50 times in the Gospel of John He says, “I tell you the truth…” As prophet He calls us to repent of our sins. As priest He intercedes your prayers, worship, and cry for repentance on behalf of God [Hebrews 4:15-16]. As king He rules over the affairs of man fairly and sovereignly. He says to us, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” [Mark 1:15] When the Bible refers to Jesus as “Lord,” this is short hand for: master and commander-in-chief of my life. Jesus is the King of kings, Lord of lords, and ruler over all creation [cf. John 18:36-37]. His kingdom will always stand. Jesus does not want to be an inspiration role model or martyr; He wants to be the center of your universe and the champion of your soul.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant. He did not come to be served, but to serve [Mark 10:45]. This is different than most popular kings, priests or kings that you read about throughout humanities history. The Bible describes Jesus as the Lamb of God who became the bloody slaughtered sacrifice for the sins of mankind [John 1:29, 36]. His crucifixion was so grotesque and excruciating that He was unrecognizable. He willingly died as the penal substitute for sin taking upon Himself the wrath of God in my place [1 John 2:2; 4:10]. Nobody takes Jesus’ life from Him; He chose to lay down His life.[5] He took your bullet, sat in your electric chair, and bore your condemnation without an ounce of whining or wincing [cf. Isaiah 53].

Jesus has risen, indeed. He died, but He did not stay dead for long. Three days to be exact [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. Now He is alive. We have recorded after Jesus rose from the grave He was seen by hundreds [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5ff]. He conquered sin and death [1 Corinthians 15:55-56] ascended to heaven [Acts 1:6-11], and is seated at the right hand of the Father [Colossian 3:1; Hebrews 8:1]. Since Jesus resurrected, you and I have the hope to resurrect into eternal life too [John 11:25]. The impact of Jesus resurrection rippled through His followers who were transformed and went to their own deaths for the sake of getting Jesus’ life-saving earth-shaking message to the masses.

all this to say, “Jesus is Your Redeemer!”

Who do you say Jesus is? Is Jesus your Savior, Deliverer and Redeemer? If this is who you say Jesus is, then can you back that up? If Jesus is your redeemer, do live like you are redeemed? Jesus did not just come to save you, but to change you from the inside out. He saved you from sin and the need to keep on sinning. If someone saved you from falling off a cliff or paid your ten billion dollar bail bond would you treat that person like crap after the fact? Even if Jesus does not have a cool cape, kicker theme song, or super hero status in your book; He is still your one true to life Redeemer. Never will there be another. Never will you have a better time to bow your knee to Him than now,

Mark 1:14 Jesus came, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Philippians 2:5 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.


[1] J. Mack Stiles, Marks of the Messenger. IVP Books. Downers Grove, IL. 2010. 27.

[2] Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? Crossway, Wheaton, IL. 2010. 59.

[3] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Jesus. Crossway Books. Wheaton, IL. 2007. 11.

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Macmillan, New York. 1952. 40-41.

[5] Jared C. Wilson, Your Jesus Is Too Safe. Kregel Publications. Grand Rapids, MI. 2009. 201.

you become what you worship

Part 3 of 3 Why Worship Matters

We are imitators [1 Cor. 11:1]. From the time we are little kids we mimic what our parents say and do, much to their cringing. We reflect [Gen. 1:26, image bearers]. It is a matter of what or who you imitate and reflect. G.K. Beale says in his book, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.” You either become like the idols or like God, you either reflect or imitate the Creator or something in creation. We are at worship war every day [Psalm 135:14-18].

Idolatry blurs the line between the Creator and creation, damaging creation [me] and diminishing God’s glory. Isaiah both reveres and reflects God to the nation of Israel amidst the nations idolatry. Idolatry = whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God [What is your security?]. Idolatry is wasted worship.

I remember in college I really wanted to have a new Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students to have. I took one out for a test drive and was enamored. The sound system was pumping and the accelerator had some get up and go. I needed to have one. Need is a very strong word. Three years ago a family member was selling their Jetta and it was in my price range. I bought it. As I drove away I though I was hot stuff. In a matter of months the luster wore off, maintenance became an issue and a new model of the Jetta rolled off the line. Isn’t that how idols works? Idols cover as needs, but when you have it, they wear out quickly.

In Isaiah 6 God gives both a command with consequence concerning what we worship:

Command: “go and tell” [Isaiah 6:8-10]

Within God’s command He gives 3 imperatives—do not perceive, do not understand, render hearts insensitive. He says to tell the people that they will be like the idols they love: dumb, deaf and blind.”

God is judging a nation for centuries of sinful rebellion and Isaiah is chosen to deliver the bad news. His generation was the last straw. God had enough. God is slow to anger, but His patience does run out. Like Hebrew 6:1-3, God’s grace and justice are in the balance. He is gracious [slow to anger] and just [character demands consequences for sinfulness]. Isaiah would see the fulfillment of His people being destroyed. His family, childhood friends, men who sat in the cubical next to him at work would all feel the wrath of God. Can you see the tears well up in Isaiah’s eyes? What if these were your neighbors, kin or co-workers?

Did Isaiah know he would be preaching repentance 50 years to a rebellious people who would ignore His God-given message? Yes. He knew from the beginning he would be speaking to people who would be incapable of accepting correction. He knew God is gracious because His doctrine of God was inspired by God’s forgiveness.

Consequence [vs.11-13]: spiritual stumps

Isaiah asks a heart-filled question, “How Long?” The response is grim, “until there is complete devastation.” The children of God—His chosen people—will be like stumps. In other words, they will be an illustration of a ruined life to the world. Can you think of some so-called followers of Christ who are pictures of a ruined life?

However, in the midst of the smoke and rubble a remnant remains [cf. v.10 “return and be healed”]. God promises restoration no matter how far gone or deep under water His people have become. In the midst of chaos there is always Cosmos. God is a Restorer [Note: in Isaiah 7-9, God promises a Restorer who will come to His people]. Jesus is the Seed that will sprout from the stump and Restore His people through His work on the cross [cf. Isaiah 7:14; 11:1-2; 53].

Making it real: Imagine next Sunday you go to church to attend the worship service and imagine yourself in the throne room of God because He is present. Since He is here how could that affect how the Word penetrates or what comes from your mouth? Who is on the throne in your life? Who rules and calls the shots? How can the characteristics of God give you hope in times of weakness or temptation? What idols are gripping your heart?

Worship is part of our God-given DNA. We are wired [pre-wired] to worship! We were made for God [cf. Roman 11:36]. Worship begins and ends with God. He is the center of our existence. Worship is what God is all about. Worship matters because it matters to God.

Worship matters because God is [alive, authoritative, omnipotent, majestic, revered, holy, and glorious], God is pursuing willing worshipers [STOP, DROP, and ROLL], and what you worship you will become for your ruin or restoration.

 

Why is Easter so significant?

So what? Why is Easter so significant? The simple answer is: God conquers sin and gives you a means to eternal life.

We tend to get lost in the bigness of life and we question what one person can do. We hear about the billions of people who roam this planet and it boggles our minds. There are nearly 7,000,000,000 people on this earth. That is a lot of zeros. How could anything significant or generationally impacting can from one man’s work? Oh, but without that One Man there would be no billions of people.

One man plunged mankind into sin.
One Man brought salvation to humanity.
By one man death come upon all.
Through One Man came grace to eternal life.

The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is eternally significant. It is the central theme and climax of the gospel [Matthew 28:1-10]. Without Jesus’ resurrection I have no hope of resurrection to life either. In order for Jesus to rise He had to die [1 Corinthians 15:1-4]. This is the message and truth of the gospel.

If there is no resurrection all that I am telling you is a lie [1 Cor. 15:14]
If there is no resurrection your faith is a farse [1 Cor.15:14]
If there is no resurrection your life is pointless [1 Cor.15:15]
If there is no resurrection you are not forgiven [1 Cor.15:17]
If there is no resurrection when you are dead you remain dead [1 Cor.15:18]
If there is no resurrection there is no hope of life [1 Cor.15:19]
If there is no resurrection future victory is uncertain [1 Cor.15:26]
If there is no resurrection you have no hope of lasting and permanent change [1 Cor.15:14]

I would therefore conclude that the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate each Easter is eternally significant. Do you know Him?

mercy for haiti

The pictures and reports coming from Haiti are heart wrenching. We cannot imagine the carnage and devastation they are experiencing. We cannot smell the rotting corpses, hear the weeping in the light of the moon, hunger after a meal you are unsure you will receive, and feel the rage of those have lost ones they love. How can this happen? Where is God in all of this? How should we respond?

Haiti is broken. Rescue is coming. Revival is possible. Christ is King.

I plea to God for mercy. With David in the midst of tragedy and doubt, I sing a song. I praise the God who is in control of creation and thank him that it was not my home that was shaken and torn. I plea for His mercy over Haiti and me.

1 To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if You be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands toward Your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of His hands, He will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the Lord! For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.
8 The Lord is the strength of His people; He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless Your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 28

i HOPE so

Hope. It is one of those words that has lost its meaning. True? Hope used to mean a strong or urgent anticipation of the future. For example “I hope Christ will come soon to really take me home”. However, through time words have either increased or decreased in meaning. Hope is one that has decreased. “Jimmy, do you think you’re going to heaven when you die?” And the answer, “I hopeso”.
 
I hope so? More like I don’t know-so or I don’t care-so. I mean, who cares about Heaven…I am concerned about the NOW, today. And do I really know if I am going to heaven? Who knows? Yikes, do you realize what I just said?
 
Your definition of ‘hope’ is seen in and through your life. Hope. Believes the best is yet to come. It is confident in the reality of the future. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
 
C.S. Lewis said, “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” (Mere Christianity, 134) Sure we have heard it said that someone could be too Heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Is this really true? I beg you to think not. We cannot hope enough for the afterworld because it will affect how we live in this world. “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
 
We have been trained to think in this world. Heaven is one of those places that doesn’t seem appealing. I desire to marry, have a family to raise, career to boost, vacation to take…there is no time or thought of Heaven yet. Sure I will be reunited with friends and family, but who wants to strum a harp and sit on clouds all day. Sounds silly, eh? That really isn’t what Heaven is about. Is it?
 
Answer these questions and Heaven becomes more appealing. Do I deserve to go there? (Rom.5:2; 2 Cor.1:10) How do I get there? Do I get to take anything with me? (Eph.1:18; Lam.3:1-19) Will He be there? Will I see Him? (Titus 2:13) Will I ever get off of my face worshipping Him? (Rev.19:1-10) This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.
 
Father, give me a taste of what is to come, so that I might crave it more.
 
Heaven. Hope. I HOPE so.