“Before [you can be sure you are at peace with God] you must not only be troubled for the sins…of your nature, but likewise for the sins of your best duties and performances. When a poor soul is somewhat awakened by the terrors of the Lord, then the poor creature, being born under the covenant of works, flies directly to a covenant of words again. And as Adam and Eve hid themselves among the trees of the garden, and sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, so the poor sinner when awakened, flies to his duties and to his performances, to hid himself from God and goes to patch up a righteousness of his own. Says he, “I will be mighty good now -I will reform- I will do all I can; and then certainly Jesus Christ will have mercy on me. But before you can [know you are at peace with God] you must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up; you must be brought to see that all your duties -all your righteousness- as the prophet elegantly expresses it-put them all together, are so far from recommending you to God, are so far from being any motive and inducement to God to have mercy on your poor soul, that he will see them to be filthy rags, a menstrous cloth-that God hates them, and cannot but away with them, if you bring them to him in order to recommend you to his favor. My dear friends, what is there in our performances to recommend us to God?

I can say that I cannot pray without sin, I cannot preach without sin, I can do nothing without sin; and as one expresses it: my repentance needs to be repented of, and my very tears to be washed in the precious blood of my dear Redeemer. Our best duties are as so many splendid sins. before you can know you are at peace with God, you must not only be made sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of your heart. The pride of our heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But if you never felt that you had to righteousness, you cannot come to Jesus Christ. There are a a great many now who may say, “well we believer all this,” but there is a great difference between talking and feeling. Did you ever feel the need of a dear Redeemer? Did you ever  feel the want of Jesus Christ, upon the account of the deficiency of your own righteousness? And can you now say from your heart, “Lord, thou mayst justly damn me for the best duties that ever I did perform?” If you are not thus brought out of yourself, you may say in your heart “peace! Peace!” But there is no peace.”

-George Whitfield

I’ve been thinking about hope recently. I think I grew up having this idea that it wasn’t OK for me to hope in things here on this earth. Why would we anyway, this earth isn’t our home. Our real hope is in heaven, and in Christ. While this is true, I think God does want us to hope for things on this earth. And this is why:

1. Hoping in things on this earth is how we trust God. For me to hope in something that I really want to happen and pray for that thing is extremely vulnerable. If I am actually hoping for something to happen, I am putting my heart out there to potentially be crushed. Now we can hope for little things to happen, like someone to remember our birthday, or we can hope for big things to happen, like someone becoming a Christian. The weightier the hope is, the more vulnerable, and probably harder it is to hope in. For me to pray to God continually for something to happen on this earth is trusting that,

a) God is powerful enough to do it. (Eph. 3:20)

b) Even if he answers my prayer with a resounding “NO”, he works all things for my good (Rom. 8:28).

c) God hears my prayers. (Ps. 116:1)

d) He would comfort me if my hopes were crushed. (Ps. 34:18)

2) The process of hoping and praying builds our relationship with God. Wrestling is what I like to call it. Communicating our desires and dreams to God, and communicating with tears our feelings of hopelessness and despair grows our intimacy with God. Both in the process of wrestling and in how God answers our prayers. Sometimes he draws us close through the hoping and rejoicing, other times it’s through hoping and waiting and waiting, and other times it’s hoping and being crushed. However he will never leave us.

3. He wants us to hope so that he can fulfill our hopes and show us his faithfulness. God created this world for us to delight in it and as we delight in it, delight in him. He loves his children and loves to work through their prayers to show his power. It is a good thing to enjoy things on this earth and desire for God to do things on this earth here and now.

4. He wants us to hope so that when he decides not to fulfill our hopes in the ways we wanted he can show us that he is our ultimate hope. All things here are a shadow of the things to come (Col. 2:17). He is the one that we long for when we long for things on this earth. It doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t long for things on this earth. But it is true that he is the only one that can fulfill our dreams completely in himself. Because he’s the perfect friend, spouse, father, mother, sister, brother, artist, worker, provider, and on and on we could go. So when our hopes aren’t fulfilled, it might be painful, but we will not be let go by our God, because he is our hope.

So hope! And pray! And hope and pray to hope! Our God is big and able to do more than we can ask or imagine. And our God is good and will give us grace.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

“Yet we must not try to make ourselves love our Lord, but look to Christ’s love first, for his love to us will beget in us love to him. I know that some of you are greatly distressed because you cannot love Christ as much as you would like to do, and you keep on fretting because it is so. Now, just forget your own love to him, and think of his great love to you; and then, immediately, your love will come to something more like that which you would desire it to be.”

Great words from Spurgeon.

“The Bible never gives us glimpses of God’s nature merely for intellectual discussion. It opens the name and glory of God to our understanding in order to help us revere God and love him and trust him and obey him.” -John Piper

“Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace. We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly…My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians, and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and heart His written Word.” -Brennan Manning

“O that God should desire that my interpretation and that of all teachers should disappear, and each Christian should come straight to the Scripture alone and to the pure word of God! You see from this babbling of mine the immeasurable difference between the word of God and all human words, and how no man can adequately reach and explain a single word of God with all his words. It is an eternal word and must be understood and contemplated with a quiet mind. No one else can understand except a mind that contemplates in silence. For anyone who could achieve this without commentary or interpretation, my commentaries and those of everyone else could not only be of no use, but merely a hindrance. Go to the Bible itself, dear Christians, and let my expositions and those of all scholars be no more than a tool with which to build aright, so that we can understand, taste, and abide in the simple and pure word of God; for God dwells alone in Zion.” -Martin Luther (1522)

 

It seems a little ironic that I would use quotes from other men about looking to the word of God above all other things (like quotes from wise men for example)..However, I was challenged by these words, which in turn brought me to the Word of God, and that’s why I wanted to share them. These words are rich indeed, and full of true statements. But nothing is richer or truer than God’s word itself. The Spirit uses these words from these men to poke and prod at the hearts of his people, but no word except God’s Word can give life and hope to the hearts of His people. It is because His words point to Christ. My hope is that we would treasure the Word of God for the sake of knowing Christ.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” -Psalm 19:7-10

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” -1 Cor. 1:18

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” -Isaiah 40:6-8

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.” Is. 54:4

There is no shame in the new country, and no disgrace will be found there. Why? Because the Lamb is there. Where the Lamb is, disgrace is not. For he was disgraced to the highest degree possible on the cross for us, leaving us pure! This identity can be ours here, now, and for eternity if we accept it. Jesus Christ is the Lamb, he is our only hope.

We will forget the shame of our youth, how? Because we will behold this God face to face: “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called…’For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”(Is. 54:5,10)

“Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!” (Ps. 24:8-10)

We will forget all shame because He forgets all shame, and when we see him fully, our eyes will never again be fixed elsewhere.

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” -Mark 3:1-6

Who responds this way? The Pharisees’ motive for going to the synagogue wasn’t to worship the Lord, it was to accuse him. Yet, Jesus was compassionate towards them. This text says Jesus was angry, but it defines the anger. This would be an example of righteous anger. His anger had to have been towards the sin itself against his perfect father, because it caused him not to be bitter towards these men, but to love them. He was grieved because their hearts were hard. Jesus knew his Father and the nature of sin, 1) that it offends and mocks the perfect God wrongly, and 2) that sin deceivingly steals joy and keeps us in a place of bondage where it grows to destroy and kill.

The Pharisees were out to destroy Jesus. The sadly ironic thing is that the very process of their man hunt was destroying themselves, not Christ.  Jesus’ response stemmed from:

1) Confidence in his identity in his father. His father said to him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) Because he was sure of his father’s love for him, he was free to love man. His identity was defined by his full acceptance by his father.

2) A love and compassion for these Pharisees. If you love someone, of course you will be saddened if you know they are being deceived. Jesus’ grieving displays his mercy towards these men, despite their evilness towards him.

 

I’ve been very slowly reading the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. He’s a psychologist that studies the unconscious mind, “thinking without thinking” is the sub-title to his book. He and others have done a variety of studies revealing the power of the unconscious part of our brain, as well as how much we are influenced without knowing it. This study was interesting to me:

A psychologist, John Bargh asked a number of students to take part in a “word-scramble” test. The students were asked to come into a classroom where they received a piece of paper with a list of five-word sets. They were told to create a grammatical four-word sentence as fast as they are able. An example would be:

1. sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

The students were given 5 minutes to unscramble a series of word sets. When they were finished they were told to meet Bargh in the hallway where they would turn in the scramble and receive further instruction. This study was done with two different groups, one of the groups received negative words dispersed in the scrambles such as “aggressively”, “bold”, “rude”, “bother”, “disturb”, “intrude”, and “infringe”. The other group received words like, “respect”, “considerate”, “appreciate”, “patiently”, “polite”, and “courteous”. When the students were finished and would come to turn it into John Bargh, he was always intentionally in the middle of a conversation with someone. “Bargh wanted to learn whether the people who were primed with the polite words would take longer to interrupt the conversation than those primed with the rude words. He knew enough about the strange power of unconscious influence to feel that it would make a difference, but he thought the effect would be slight.” However, he was surprised  to find that almost all of the people primed to be rude interrupted him after 5 minutes, where as 82% of  people primed to be polite never interrupted at all.

The students coming in thought they were participating in a study about words, little did they know they were being influenced by the very words they were trying to de-scramble. There have been many other similar tests done that reveals we are very subtly influenced by things we see/hear/read.

More and more I’ve been seeing how fragile and impressionable we humans are. We are influenced more than we know by things around us. This is both scary and humbling. It’s scary to me because it makes me realize how much I’m not in control. I’m being influenced all day long without knowing it. My mind takes in information, processes it, and then subtly influences the way I respond in stressful situations, what I decide to do with my time, whether or not I’m going to respond graciously when someone hurts me, ect. It’s humbling because I realize how weak I am, how easy it is for me to lose sight of what is good and true. I am small. However, it is comforting to know that I am being held and kept by the hand of the living God.

It really does make sense though when you think about it. The Bible talks a lot about renewing our minds. Why? Because we need it.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot.” (Rom. 8:5-7)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

We are given instruction to renew our minds because our minds’ default is wickedness and death. When I wake up in the morning I need to be reminded that my needs have been met, that I am fully forgiven, that I am fully loved, that I am fully known by Christ. If I don’t, chances are I will try to get my needs met by another means, and chances are, I will be left disappointed, frustrated, and empty every time.

God promises us that “his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23). This is part of his character, his love is steadfast and unceasing. His mercies are new every morning because we need them every morning-desperately! He doesn’t tire of giving us grace, he doesn’t hesitate to love us tenderly, and he doesn’t think twice about being patient towards us when we sin against him. This is because of what Christ did on the cross. So let us fill our minds every morning the knowledge of this great love and be influenced to love.

“In all unbelief there are these two things—a good opinion of one’s self and a bad opinion of God. Man’s good opinion of himself makes him think it quite possible to win God’s favor by his own religious performances; and his bad opinion of God makes him unwilling and afraid to put his case wholly into His hands. The object of the Holy Spirit’s work (in convincing of sin) is to alter the sinner’s opinion of himself, and so to reduce his estimate of his own character that he shall think of himself as God does, and so cease to suppose it possible that he can be justified by an excellency of his own. The Spirit then alters his evil opinion of God, so as to make him see that the God with whom he has to do is really the God of all grace.

But the inquirer denies that he has a good opinion of himself and owns himself a sinner. Now a man may SAY this, but really to KNOW it is something more than SAYING. Besides, he may be willing to take the name of sinner to himself, in common with his fellow-men, and yet not at all own himself such a sinner as God says he is—such a sinner as needs the cross, and blood, and righteousness of the Son of God. It takes a great deal to destroy a man’s good opinion of himself; how difficult it is to make a man think of himself as God does! What but the almightiness of the Divine Spirit can accomplish this?

Unbelief, then, is the belief of a lie and the rejection of the truth. Accept, then, the character of God as given in the gospel; the Holy Spirit will not give you peace irrespective of your views of God’s character. It is in connection with THE TRUTH concerning the true God, “the God of all grace,” that the Spirit gives peace. That which He shows us of ourselves is only evil; that which He shows us of God is only good!”

-Horatius Bonar

I was talking with a dear friend the other day and she shared this thought with me, God has made us with needs, and he has also made us with desires for those needs to be met. On a physical level, we as humans have simple needs such as food and rest. Without food we will die, without sleep, we will die. But we weren’t just created with these needs, God also created our bodies to desire food and rest, to meet these needs. What if we didn’t desire to eat? What if eating was painful? What if we didn’t have taste buds? What if sleeping was torturous? What if we didn’t have the ability to sleep?

On a deeper level, studies show that humans have needs for joy/happiness. Happiness contributes to the overall health of a person. At the same time God has also given us deep desires to be happy. Because we have these desires, we search for happiness. We find temporary happiness through all sorts of things, but not lasting happiness. Our deepest longings for joy can only be met through Jesus Christ, because God has provided us with him. And God did this for us to satisfy our longings and to display his character. “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16)

“Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart.” (Ecc. 3:11) Or as Blaise Pascal says, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.  It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

God is gracious, and wise to make our bodies with desires for needs and also provide us with the thing that satisfies our deepest need!

“Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words, deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together-the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Categories