Come On In

Come On InThe Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is constantly calling us to “Come!” He wants to draw us nearer to God’s presence. But sin separates. Let me be more specific and more personal: My sin can make me believe I can’t come closer to God.

In Psalm 99:8, notice how the psalmist focuses first on God’s forgiveness, and then on His punishment. It’s as though he is saying, “Yes, God punishes sin, but He is first and foremost a forgiving God”—

…You were to Israel a forgiving God, though You punished their misdeeds. (Psalm 99:8)

God is slow to anger, but He must punish sin. His punishment is always to encourage reconciliation. He wants to remove the sin that separates us. This has always been His focus since the very first sin.

In fact the next psalm celebrates coming into God’s presence with joy—

  • Shout for joy
  • Worship with gladness
  • Come in with joyful songs
  • Remember that God made us and we are His
  • Enter with thanksgiving
  • Enter with praise
  • Come give Him thanks
  • Praise Him
  • He is good
  • His love endures forever
  • His faithfulness never diminishes

This should encourage me all the more to quickly confess my sin and repent from it, so that I can once again answer the Holy Spirit’s call to come deeper into God’s presence.

Poetry Saturday—The Very Thought Of Thee

Bernard of ClairvauxJesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see
And in Thy presence rest.

No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
No tongue or pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be Thou our glory now
And thru eternity. —Bernard of Clairvaux

Links & Quotes

link quote

These are links to articles and quotes I found interesting today.

“It is not hard for the Lord to turn night into day. He that sends the clouds can as easily clear the skies. Let us be of good cheer. It is better on before. Let us sing hallelujah by anticipation.” —Charles Spurgeon

“A holy life is not an aesthetic, or gloomy, or solitary life, but a life regulated by divine truth and faithful in Christian duty.” —Tyron Edwards

“The greatest miracle that God can do today is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, and make that man holy and put him back into that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” —Leonard Ravenhill

“If you see church as being just your local fellowship, then you still have not found the true Church. The God-blessed, righteous Church starts where you live.” —David Wilkerson

“As long as Christians split hairs, Christians will split churches.” —Max Lucado

Uh oh! Minimum Wage Hike Would Eliminate 500,000 Jobs

From Tim Elmore: Four Timeless Ideas To Make Your Point

“The Christian church is the body of Christ, Jesus Himself being the Headship of that body. Every true Christian, no matter where he or she lives, is a part of that body, and the Holy Spirit is to the church what our own souls are to our physical bodies.” —A.W. Tozer

Joy! Joy! Joy!

This is an article that I wrote for this week’s Cedar Springs Post newspaper.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy is not something that melts away, it is unaffected by circumstances, remaining rock-solid. Joy is what the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem brings us. 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

On the day Jesus was born, the angels sang about peace on earth. Jesus Himself said that He didn’t come to condemn us, but to save us. Jesus came to be our Savior which is another reason for great joy!

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

Jesus Christ’s Advent among us was the fulfillment of a promise given all the way back in the first book of the Bible. God the Father said Jesus would come to wipe out sin, and sorrow, and reverse the curse, turning it back into a blessing for all who would put their faith in Jesus. What joy to have all of the negatives turned into positives! 

I hope you will discover—or rediscover—the joy that the birth of Jesus brings. At Calvary Assembly of God, where I have the privilege of pastoring, we are talking about the joy and the light that came with Jesus Christ’s birth. If you don’t have a home church, I would love to have you join us over the next couple of Sundays at 10:30am.

Joy! Joy! Joy! Let it reign!

The Joy Of Serving

The joy of servingGod told the Levites, “I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift” (Numbers 18:7). So, pastor, a simple question: Does serving seem like a gift to you?

The service I get to do for God, and for my congregation, and for my city is a gift from God. May I never, ever feel it a burden, a task, or an obligation. It should always be a joy to serve!

In order to serve God and others in a manner that is God pleasing and God glorifying, I must keep fit spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. “You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you” (Numbers 18:29).

A good prayer for pastors—

Search me, Holy Spirit, test my heart’s attitude on this: am I giving You the best and the holiest? Am I serving with joy or merely serving out of duty? You have given me this responsibility as a gift. May I accept this gift with overflowing joy!

6 Quotes From “The Purpose Of Christmas”

The Purpose Of ChristmasI mentioned in my book review of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Of Christmas that this might be a good book to help families recalibrate the meaning of Christmas each year. As you can see from the quotes I highlighted, this book doesn’t talk directly about Christmas trees, or gifts, or mistletoe, or carols. Rather it goes to the heart of the matter: Why did Jesus need to be born in a stable in Bethlehem? He was born for our salvation, and our reconciliation with God and our fellowman.

“Your capacity for enjoyment is evidence of God’s love for you.”

“No one wants what’s best for you more than God. No one knows better what will make you truly happy!”

“Our natural inclination is to want our own way instead of God’s way. This tendency to make wrong choices instead of right ones is called sin. The middle letter of sin is I, and whenever I place myself at the center of my life, I sin. It is any attitude or action that denies God His rightful place as first in my life.”

“Guilt is the mental price we pay for violating our God-given consciences.”

“I asked Peter Drucker, ‘How did you come to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior?’ He thought about it for a few seconds, then replied, ‘The day that I finally understood grace, I realized I was never going to get a better deal than that!’”

“Reconciliation focuses on the relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. Always focus on reconciliation first.”

Sacrifice

Christ in youSometimes people get bogged down in some of the Old Testament books because it seems so tedious. And, honestly, some of it can seem irrelevant to today’s Christian. B.B. Warfield described the Old Testament as a richly furnished but dimly lit house. Only when the lights are turned on can we appreciate the beauty that was there all along. In Jesus Christ the light is on, and we can see the beauty of the Old Testament!

In the first seven chapters of Leviticus the sacrifices are described in detail. There are some repeating phrases that we should note: without defect … without yeast … of the proper value. The sacrifices were to be of the best quality, without any “strings attached,” and well thought-out.

Sacrifices were not only physically given, but given emotionally and mentally too. They shouldn’t be given begrudgingly as a “have to” sacrifice, but joyfully as a “get to” sacrifice.

The Archeological Study Bible has an interesting commentary on the sacrifices: “The sacrificial system was not magical. Its efficacy depended not upon the offering of a particular animal… but on God Himself, Who ordained these sacrifices. Fully as important, without an attitude of repentance, perfunctory observation of sacrificial rituals was meaningless.”

Jesus was the once-for-all sacrifice. And if you have accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, the Bible says Christ is now in you and you are new creation. You are blameless in God’s sight!

So today the best sacrifice you can give God is: YOU. When you joyfully give God your life and talents as a living sacrifice with a grateful attitude, God sees Christ’s sacrifice in you as perfect—no defect, no hypocrisy, a sacrifice of inestimable value!

If Jesus Christ is in you, you are a perfect sacrifice, so don’t hesitate to give yourself to God.

13 Quotes From “Dear Abba”

Dear AbbaDear Abba is an intimate book of prayer and personal reflection; it’s thought-provoking and emotionally-moving. You can read my full book review by clicking here. Below are some of the quotes and prayers I found especially meaningful.

“Dear Abba, I’ve come to the place where I’m letting You love me more each day, but I still struggle with letting You like me.” 

“It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad: all of our desires to make ourselves worthy of this world but unfit for the world to come.”

“Peace and joy go a-begging when the heart of a Christian pants for one sign after another of God’s merciful love. Nothing is taken for granted, and nothing is received with gratitude.”

“I feel like the psalmist tonight—downcast. I was upcast, bright, enjoying the warmth of the day and then suddenly my joy was pickpocketed. It was a small thing, a minor misunderstanding that I could have let roll off like water, but I held on to it and nursed it awhile, and like sin always does, it grew. Now I find my mind completely disturbed, anxious, angry, and my imagination is conjuring up all sorts of somebody-done-me-wrong songs. Why do I not trust You? After so many demonstrations of Your infinitely tender hand, why do I not trust You?”

“Sin does not magnify the suffering of man’s plight; instead, it mitigates it. When I sin, I seek an escape from my humanity. I used to say to myself, ‘Well, you’re only human!’ But sin does not make me human; it compromises my humanity. The philandering husband with his mistress on business trips, the chemically addicted, the thieves who build ivory towers out of stolen money, the sensation-seekers and power brokers who seek substitutes. They do not drink the poverty of the human situation down to the last drop. They dare not stare it full in the face.” 

Yet. Those three letters stop me in my rutted tracks of besetting sins. For You were tempted as I am, yet You did not sin. The humbling point is that on a scale from 1 to 10, I usually give in when the heat reaches 3 or 4, yet You experienced the 10—the full-in-the-face of temptation—and did not give in. You are the friend of sinners, yet You are also the Great High Priest who invites us to come with confidence to Your throne and receive both our daily bread and extra rations for emergencies.”

“To practice poverty of spirit calls us not to take offense or be supersensitive to criticism.

“When the gift of a humble heart is granted, we are more accepting of ourselves and less critical of others. … For the humble person there is a constant awareness of his or her own weakness, insufficiency, and desperate need for God.”

“My friends in Christ, the simple truth is that the Christian Church in America is divided by doctrine, history, and day-to-day living. We have come a long sad journey from the first century, when pagans exclaimed with awe and wonder, ‘See how these Christians love one another!’” 

“Christ’s breakthrough into new life on Easter morning unfettered Him from the space-time limitations of existence in the flesh and empowered Him to touch not only Nepal, but New Orleans, not only Matthew and Magdalene, but me. The Lion of Judah in His present risenness pursues, tracks, and stalks us here and now.”

“I realized today that there is a third character who goes up to the temple to pray: the pharisaic tax collector—a ragamuffin who knows she’s a ragamuffin and wants to make sure everyone else knows she’s a ragamuffin. So she ends up using her sinner status not to cry out for mercy to You, but rather to seek out the attention of others as one who is real and authentic, when in reality she is nothing more than hubris in thrift-shop fashions. I realized this today because I looked in the mirror. God, be merciful to me.” 

“The tendency to continually berate ourselves for real or imaginary failures, to belittle ourselves and underestimate our worth, to dwell exclusively on our dishonesty, self-centeredness, and lack of personal discipline, is the influence of our negative self-esteem. Reinforced by the critical feedback of our peers and the reproofs and humiliations of our community, we seem radically incapable of accepting, forgiving, or loving ourselves.”

“If nobody remembers my name or the works of my hands, if everything that I’ve worked so hard to build over the years crumbles into insignificance, if I lose my health and my wits and even, heaven forbid, my memory, You are still my refuge and strength.” 

10 Quotes From “Alive To Wonder”

Alive To WonderIn this collection of essays John Piper shares how C.S. Lewis impacted his thinking about God. You can read my book review (and get the link to download the free ebook version of this book) by clicking here.

I could have highlighted and underlined nearly the entire book, but here are some of my favorite quotes—

“I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.” —Clyde Kilby

“Although Lewis owned a huge library, he possessed few of his own works. His phenomenal memory recorded almost everything he had read except his own writings—an appealing fault. Often when I quoted lines from his own poems he would ask who the author was. He was a very great scholar, but no expert in the field of C.S. Lewis.” —Walter Hooper

“The work of a charwoman and the work of a poet become spiritual in the same way and on the same condition.” —C.S. Lewis 

“God is not worshipped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy. Not to enjoy God is to dishonor Him. To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege.” —John Piper

“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose…! You drove them from me, You who are true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, You who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, You who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. … O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.” —Augustine

“Would it not be an encouragement to a subject, to hear his prince say to him, ‘You will honor and please me very much, if you will go to yonder mine of gold, and dig as much gold for yourself as you can carry away’? So, for God to say, ‘Go to the ordinance, get as much grace as you can, dig out as much salvation as you can; and the more happiness you have, the more I shall count Myself glorified.’” —Thomas Watson

“Consider this question: In view of God’s infinite power and wisdom and beauty, what would His love for a human being involve? Or to put it another way: What could God give us to enjoy that would prove Him the most loving? There is only one possible answer: Himself.” —John Piper 

“We praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise.” —John Piper

“You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope’s object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself. … The surest means of disarming an anger or a lust is to turn your attention from the girl or the insult and start examining the passion itself.” —C.S. Lewis 

“God is glorified in His people by the way we experience Him, not merely by the way we think about Him. Indeed the devil thinks more true thoughts about God in one day than a saint does in a lifetime, and God is not honored by it. The problem with the devil is not his theology, but his desires. Our chief end is to glorify God, the great Object. We do so most fully when we treasure Him, desire Him, and delight in Him so supremely that we let goods and kindred go and display His love to the poor and the lost.” —John Piper

22 Quotes From “The Ragamuffin Gospel”

Ragamuffin GospelThe Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning really resonated with me. You can read my full book review by clicking here, but below are some of the quotes I especially appreciated.

“The institutional church has become a wounder of the healer rather than a healer of the wounded.” 

“Personal responsibility has replaced personal response. We talk about acquiring virtue as if it were a skill that can be attained, like good handwriting or a well-grooved golf swing. In the penitential seasons we focus on overcoming our weaknesses, getting rid of our hang-ups, and reaching Christian maturity. We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal disciplines and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time.”

“God has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do.” 

“Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”

“The Word we study has to be the Word we pray.”

“We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.”

“Whatever past achievements might bring us honor, whatever past disgraces might make us blush, all have been crucified with Christ and exist no more except in the deep recess of eternity.” 

“It is unimaginable to picture a wooden-faced, stoic, joyless, and judgmental Jesus as He reclined with ragamuffins.”

“We miss Jesus’ point entirely when we use His words as weapons against others. They are to be taken personally by each of us.” 

“The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace.”

“Maybe this is the heart of our hang-up, the root of our dilemma. We fluctuate between castigating ourselves and congratulating ourselves because we are deluded into thinking we save ourselves. We develop a false sense of security from our good works and scrupulous observance of the law. Our halo gets too tight and a carefully disguised attitude of moral superiority results. Or we are appalled by our inconsistency, devastated that we haven’t lived up to our lofty expectations of ourselves. The roller coaster ride of elation and depression continues. Why? Because we never lay hold of our nothingness before God, and consequently, we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with Him. But when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.” 

“Honesty is such a precious commodity that it is seldom found in the world or the church. Honesty requires the truthfulness to admit the attachment and addictions that control our attention, dominate our consciousness, and function as false gods. I can be addicted to vodka or to being nice, to marijuana or being loved, to cocaine or being right, to gambling or relationships, to golf or gossiping. Perhaps my addiction is food, performance, money, popularity, power, revenge, reading, television, tobacco, weight, or winning. When we give anything more priority than we give to God, we commit idolatry. Thus we all commit idolatry countless times every day.”

“To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace. Honesty keeps us in touch with our neediness and the truth that we are saved sinners. There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are. … Getting honest with ourselves does not make us unacceptable to God. It does not distance us from God, but draws us to Him—as nothing else can—and opens us anew to the flow of grace.” 

“When we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God’s gift of grace. Preoccupation with self is always a major component of unhealthy guilt and recrimination. … Yes, we feel guilt over sins, but healthy guilt is one which acknowledges the wrong done and feels remorse, but then is free to embrace the forgiveness that has been offered.”

“The evil one is the great illusionist. He varnishes the truth and encourages dishonesty. ‘If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth has no place in us’ (1 John 1:8). satan prompts us to give importance to what has no importance. He clothes trivia with glitter and seduces us away from what is real. He causes us to live in a world of delusion, unreality, and shadows.” 

“At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo-repentance and pseudo-bliss.”

“The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith. How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.” 

“A little child cannot do a bad coloring; nor can a child of God do bad in prayer.”

“The call asks, Do you really accept the message that God is head over heels in love with you? I believe that this question is at the core of our ability to mature and grow spiritually. If in our hearts we really don’t believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the Cross.” 

“There are some real problems with projecting the perfect image. First of all, it’s simply not true—we are not always happy, optimistic, in command. Second, projecting the flawless image keeps us from reaching people who feel we just wouldn’t understand them. And third, even if we could live a life with no conflict, suffering, or mistakes, it would be a shallow existence. The Christian with depth is the person who has failed and who has learned to live with it.”

“We project into the Lord our own measured standard of acceptance. Our whole understanding of Him is based in a quid pro quo of bartered love. He will love us if we are good, moral, and diligent. But we have turned the tables; we try to live so that He will love us, rather than living because He has already loved us.” 

“No greater sinners exist than those so-called Christians who disfigure the face of God, mutilate the gospel of grace, and intimidate others through fear. They corrupt the essential nature of Christianity.”

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