WHEN GOD GIVES YOU A BLISTER

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Ever have one of those days where your patience is tried? I mean really tried. I mean one of those days where it seems like everyone on the planet is in on the joke? Of course you have. And we should not be surprised that we have days like this because we live in a fallen, broken world. So how do we “arrest our hearts” so that we begin to see that things and people and circumstances that test our patience are actually good for us? I’ll let two people share their thoughts- George Downame and the apostle Paul.

George Downame (c.1563-1634) is one of the lesser-known Puritans but his words on patience are what you may need today:

Our Physician makes these outward blisters in our bodies, to draw out the poisonous corruption that is in our souls: and therefore let us endure what He imposes with patience, and never murmur against Him for effecting His cure; knowing that it is but childish folly to abhor the medicine more than the disease.

How often do we murmur against what Jesus brings into our life for our cure? How spiritually immature is it that we abhor the medicine (God’s sovereignty in arranging our days and situations in order to make us more like His Son) more than we abhor the disease (our selfishness, sin, etc.)?

So how do we endure difficult people, situations, etc. in order to be conformed to the image of Jesus? Let the apostle Paul help you today:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy… Colossians 1:11

In order to endure trials and difficulties and people and situations that test our patience, we need outside help. We need the power that emanates from God’s glorious might. Only His power can enable us to endure with patience and joy. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can enable us to endure “these outward blisters” that God imposes on us. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can help us to not abhor the “medicine” that God brings into our lives. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can enable us to see that God brings the “medicine” of trials and difficulties in order to remove the disease of sin and selfishness that permeates our hearts.

Have you thanked God for the outward blisters He has made on you?

Struggling to give thanks for God-ordained blisters,
Benji

THE PROMISES OF GOD: DISCOVERING THE ONE WHO KEEPS HIS WORD BY R.C. SPROUL

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Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now. 2 Kings 13:22-23

In 2 Kings 13, King Joash tragically responded to the word of God, hence, the oppression of Hazael in verse 22. But after verse 22 comes this big “but”- But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them. Why was Yahweh faithful to unfaithful Israel? Because of the covenant that He made with Abraham. God is faithful to His promises, even when His people aren’t.

We know from our study in Ezra+Nehemiah that eventually the Lord did “cast” His people into exile (see 2nd Kings 24:20). He was faithful to the promise of discipline that He promised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. But the Lord waited patiently for a very long time before He cast Israel into exile. Why? Because He is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands…” (Exodus 34:6-7). He waits because He is faithful to the covenant, faithful to His promises. That’s how God deals with us and that’s how He wants us to view Him: faithful to His promises. Martin Luther reminds us how God deals with us and what He desires of us:

He desires not works nor has he need of them. He desires that we consider him faithful in his promises & patiently persist in this belief. God does not deal, nor has he ever dealt, with man otherwise than through a word of promise.

God doesn’t need your good works. As Luther also famously said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” What God desires is that we consider Him faithful to His promises and we patiently persist in this belief. Why? Because God does not, nor has He ever, dealt with man other than through a word of promise. I love that our God is like that!

So let me recommend to you a book that highlights how God deals with His people: The Promises of God: Discovering the One who Keeps His Word

Benji

HONEY OUT OF THE ROCK

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“But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” Psalm 81:16

In last week’s sermon (“It Will Cost You Dear, Dear Christian!”) I mentioned a book by Puritan Thomas Wilcox (1621-1687) titled Honey Out of the Rock. The title is taken from Psalm 18. In this short, easy-to-read book, Wilcox stresses the importance of looking outward to Jesus alone for everything. He warns against the dangers of looking inward for anything in the Christian life. Here are a few quotes and link to where you can read it for free-

When you believe and come to Christ, you must leave behind you your own righteousness, and bring nothing but your sin: (Oh, that is hard!) leave behind all your holiness, sanctification, duties, humbling, and so on; and bring nothing but your wants and miseries…

Whatever comes in when you go to God for acceptance, besides Christ, call it anti-Christ; bid it be gone; make only Christ’s righteousness triumphant.

When Satan charges sin upon the conscience, then for the soul to charge it upon Christ, that is gospel-like; that is to make Him Christ. He serves for that use, to accept Christ’s righteousness al one, His blood alone for salvation- that is the sum of the gospel. When the soul, in all duties and distress, can say, “Nothing but Christ, Christ alone, for righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption” (I Cor. 1:30); not humbling, not duties, not graces; that soul has got above the reach of the billows.

Do not legalize the gospel, as if part remained for you to do and suffer, and Christ were but half a Mediator and you must bear part of your own sin, and make part satisfaction. Let sin break your heart, but not your hope in the gospel.

Look more at justification than sanctification.

You can find Honey Out of the Rock here.

I do hope you’ll read this book. I hope it helps you see just how glorious your Savior is. May it become honey out of a rock for your weary soul!

Benji

THOSE HARPERS WHOM JOHN HEARD HARPING WITH THEIR HARPS!

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And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps… Revelation 14:2

One of my favorite sermons by one of my favorite pastors is a Thanksgiving sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards on November 7, 1734. His text was Revelation 14:2. Listen to his description of the saints in Heaven:

Second, this doctrine may give us an idea of the glorious and happy state of the saints in heaven. It shows how joyfully and gloriously they spend their time. Joy is a great ingredient in praise. There is an exultation of spirit in fervent praise. Praise is the most joyful work in the world. And how joyful a society are they that join together, so many thousands and millions of them, with one heart and one soul, to sing a new song before the throne, that fill heaven with their glorious melody! How joyful they are in their work, appears in the text, by their fervency in it, so that their voices resounded as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder. What ineffable joy was there in those harpers whom John heard harping with their harps!…

We ought now to begin that work which we intend shall be the work of another world. For this life is given us on purpose that therein we might prepare for a future life. The present state is a state of probation and preparation, a state of preparation for the enjoyments and employment of another, future, and eternal state. And no one is ever admitted to those enjoyments and employments, but those who are prepared for them here. If ever we would go to heaven, we must be fitted for heaven in this world. We must here have our souls molded and fashioned for that work and that happiness… if we begin now to exercise ourselves in the work of heaven, it will be the way to have foretastes of the enjoyments of heaven. (From the sermon, “Praise, One of the Chief Enjoyments of Heaven”)

Why not get a jumpstart on eternity, get a foretaste of the enjoyments of Heaven by praising and thanking God this week? May it be said of us after the weekend, “What ineffable joy was there in those harpers harping with their harps as they drank their Starbucks, ate their pies, threw their footballs, worshipped on the Sabbath, helped their neighbors, etc!”

THE SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, SLOOOOOOOOOW GROWTH OF DISCIPLES

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“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Every disciple of Jesus is always in a state of growing. There is always another step of discipleship. There will always be areas of growth in every disciple’s life and in every church. No exceptions. Spiritual growth takes time. No one ever “arrives”- even though there many people who think they have arrived. Take the last donut that they wanted or cut them off in traffic and you’ll see that they haven’t arrived. Sanctification takes time. C.J. Mahaney said-

“Sanctification is a process—an extremely slow process— for us all. Comprehending truth, applying truth, mortifying indwelling sin, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit— it’s a process that usually takes place by small increments over a lifetime. Normally, people don’t grow dramatically as the result of a single sermon or sermon series. And neither do you, pastor. Look at it this way: for ordinary pastors, the slow process of sanctification is a form of job security.”

Pastors are guilty of getting frustrated at their churches when they fail to respond to particular sermons. Pastors often forget that they too are slow to grow. Pastors aren’t transformed immediately as a result of seminary training. Pastors, like all disciples, are slow to grow spiritually.

John Newton said-
“I have been thirty years forming my own views; and, in the course of this time, some of my hills have sunk, and some of my valleys have risen: but, how unreasonable would it be to expect all this should take place in another person; and that, in the course of a year or two.”

Spiritual growth takes time. Nobody arrives over night (or, after hearing one sermon!). That last sentence is a hard pill for this pastor to swallow. So, think about, don’t obsess over your spiritual journey. The Gospel is transforming you. But don’t lose heart if it feels like there is no progress. I’m sure there is. God began a work in you. He will complete it (Philippians 1:6). Just keep pressing on. Keep reading your Bible. Keep fellowshipping with other believers. Keep praying. Keep giving. Keep serving. Keep sharing the Gospel. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep rehearsing the Gospel. And stop obsessing over your growth or the growth of others!

And keep remembering that just as you haven’t arrived overnight spiritually, the people in your life haven’t either. Your children are slow to grow spiritually (Man, do I need to remember this!). So are your believing co-workers. So are the people you sit next to in church. So are the people in your small group or Sunday school class. And so are your pastors. Every one is slow to grow, but we’re all growing. Be patient. And be patient with others. Remember Newton’s words- “…how unreasonable would it be to expect all this should take place in another person; and that, in the course of a year or two.”

Slowly (but surely) growing and not necessarily due to my own sermons ’cause they’re not that dynamic,
Benji

ABSORBED IN THE GOSPEL

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One of my favorite (and I think best books on the Gospel!) is A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love. Please, please, please: don’t let the cover fool you! This book is Gospel gold. I cannot stress enough the importance of this book in helping me “rediscover” the Gospel in 2008. I was burdened under the weight of sin and constantly running on what Jerry Bridges calls the “performance treadmill”- trying to earn God’s love through my obedience. Of course, I failed repeatedly, therefore, I felt God was always mad at me. And then this book came along. I will be forever grateful for what Milton Vincent has done in this book. In this book he explains how absorbing the Gospel gives believers perspective and enables them to find contentment in any situation:

The more absorbed I am in the gospel, the more grateful I become in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be.

Viewing life’s blessings as water in a drinking cup, I know that I discontentedly focus on the half of the cup that seems empty, or I could gratefully focus on the half that is full. Certainly, the latter approach is the better of the two, yet the gospel cultivates within me a richer gratitude than this.

The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup churning with the torments of His wrath. This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing contained in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me. That God, in fact, has given me a cup that is full of “every spiritual blessing in Christ,” and this without the slightest admixture of wrath, leaves me truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy. As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve.

When I look at any circumstance that God apportions me, I am first grateful for the wrath I am not receiving in that moment. (The empty part of the cup never looked so good!)

Secondly, I am grateful for the blessings that are given to me instead of His wrath. (Life’s blessings, however small, always appear exceedingly precious when viewed against the backdrop of the wrath I deserve.) This two-layered gratitude disposes my heart to give thanks in all things and it also lends a certain intensity to my giving of thanks. Such a gospel-generated gratitude glorifies God, contributes to peace of mind, and keeps my foot from the path of foolishness and ruin.

Give thanks to God today that Jesus absorbed all of God’s wrath against you that you might absorb the Gospel in Him. As Steve Brown likes to say, “God’s not mad at you, Christian!” Thank God, He isn’t!

Truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy,
Benji

ST. SATAN PRAY FOR ME?

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…as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1st Corinthians 1:7b-9

I love this passage. It gives me hope. And it helps me to sleep well at night (more on that in a moment). But this passage is encouraging because of what Paul says and to whom he says it.

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and, to put it mildly, they were seriously messed up because of sin. This church was sick and warped. There were divisions and cliques because people favored certain pastors (1 Cor 3:4-9). A man was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with his step-mother (1 Cor 5:1-5). They were taking each other to court and suing each other (1 Cor 6:1-8). They were involved in gross immorality and idolatry (1Cor 6:12-20; 10:1-22). Some were even hogging all the bread at the Lord’s Supper and were getting drunk from the wine (1 Cor 11:17-22)! They were abusing spiritual gifts and were lacking love (1 Cor 12-14). And people say, “We want to be a New Testament church.” Not me! At least not this particular church.

But the thing that gives me hope is that it is to these messed up Christians at Corinth that Paul writes and says, “… Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful…”

Incredible. A sin-soaked congregation will be guiltless on the day when Jesus returns. Why? Because God is faithful. Because the Gospel is true. What a glorious hope sin-soaked churches have (both then and now)!

This is why I sleep well at night. Well, actually I don’t sleep well at night because I’m a “light sleeper” and my wife recently gave birth to our 6th child and we have a few sick kiddos at the house. So I haven’t been sleeping well lately, but I do sleep without worrying over the state of the church where I serve as pastor. No matter how messed up we are because of sin, if Jesus were to come back today, we’d all be blameless and without guilt at His return. That’s good news!

But what do you do when Satan repeatedly reminds you of your sins? Even though you are guiltless, what do you do when Satan reminds you of your besetting sins? Let me give the floor to my friend Martin Luther:

“When I go to bed, the devil is always waiting for me. When he begins to plague me, I give him this answer: ‘Devil, I must sleep. That’s God’s command — work by day, sleep by night. So go away.’ If that doesn’t work and he brings out a catalog of sins, I say, ‘Yes, old fellow, I know all about it. And I know some more you have overlooked. Here are a few extra. Put them down.’ If he still won’t quit and presses me hard and accuses me as a sinner, I scorn him and say, ‘St. Satan, pray for me. Of course, you have never done anything wrong in your life. You alone are holy. Go to God and get grace for yourself. If you want to get me all straightened out, I say, Physician, heal thyself.’”

I love Luther’s honesty and sense of humor. But he didn’t take sin lightly and neither should we. Let’s fight sin. Let’s strive for holiness by God’s grace. But let’s sleep well at night knowing that God sees us covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Give thanks today that you are forgiven and now stand blameless in God’s eyes because of Jesus… regardless of what Satan says!

Guiltless (what a great description!),
Benji

* Photo by Mike Adams