Putting Promises to Work

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For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2nd Corinthians 1:20

Life can be discouraging. Ministry can be discouraging. The apostle Paul wasn’t immune to this. Just read the first chapter of 2nd Corinthians. How did Paul overcome discouragement? He clung to the promises of God. And that’s exactly what William Bridge (1600-1670) suggests we do in his book A Lifting Up for the Downcast-

Are all your comforts gone, and would you fain have them restored? Then read and read the Scriptures much. If you cannot read them yourself, get some others to read them to you… The more full a man’s mind is, the more free from temptations and fears. Now Scripture matter is the most filling matter. The more you see Christ walking in the sweet shades of divine love toward poor sinners, the sooner will your faith revive, and your comforts be restored. And where can you see Jesus Christ walking, and taking His turns with poor sinners under the shades of divine love, but in the Scriptures? Stand there awhile, and you shall see Him, and your heart will say, And why not one turn of love with me, oh my Saviour? Study, read, and read much the Scriptures.

But, say you, if I do read the Scriptures, and read them much, I shall then meet with some promise, possibly many, and now I cannot apply them, discouraged as I am; I shall see the promises indeed, and say, There is such and such an old friend of mine, but it is now mine enemy; the promise will not own me, and I cannot apply it, and so it will do me no good.

You cannot tell what the promise will do till you come to apply it. The promise never yields its power and strength till it is applied; it works when it is put to work, and not before… It may be you look upon such and such a promise at a distance, and you say, Oh, there is my enemy; now it will not help me, it will sting me, it will undo me; but put forth your hand again to it, and it will become a promise, a rod in your hand, as comfortable as ever it was before.

And if the promise does not come to you, go you to it. Sometimes the promise comes to us, sometimes we go to it. When the promise comes to you, you have joy; when you go to it, you have peace, and this peace may last longer than the joy. But remember this as an everlasting rule, that your very relying upon the promise makes it yours.

Are you discouraged? Are you downcast? Then read God’s word. And keep reading it. Find a promise and hang on to it. God’s promises work when you put them to work.

Ashamed, But Not Ashamed to Beg

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For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16

It is amazing that we have access to the throne of God. It’s amazing because of who God is and who we are: God is holy; we are sinners. Puritan Thomas Boston helps paint the corners of the Gospel for us-

Believing that however great the mercies are, and however unworthy we are, yet we may obtain them from God through Jesus Christ; Heb. iv. 15, 16. There can be no praying in faith without this. If we do not believe this, we dishonour his name, whether our unbelief of it arise from the greatness of the mercy needed, or from our own unworthiness, or both. For nothing can be beyond the reach of his infinite merit and never-failing intercession.

Seeking in prayer the mercies we need of God, for Christ’s sake accordingly. So we present our petitions ” in his name ;” John xvi. 24. We are to be ashamed before God in prayer, ashamed of ourselves, but not ashamed to beg in the name of his Son. Our holy shame respects our unworthiness; but Christ’s merit and intercession are set before us, as a ground of confidence.

However you have sinned and however far away His mercy seems, it is available. However low you feel because of your sin and rebellion and however high He seems because of His holiness, grace and mercy are available. Nothing can be beyond the reach of His infinite merit and never-failing intercession.

So don’t think that God can’t or won’t forgive you, Christian. When you think this way it dishonors Him. You are unworthy of His grace and mercy, but you can be confident before His throne because of Jesus. All you gotta do is go there and ask. It’s free!

Ashamed, but not ashamed to beg-
Benji

Wearing Your Baptism

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Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:3-5

Martin Luther has some great advice to share with us:

“When you wash your face, remember your baptism.”

He also said that baptism is-

“…the daily garment which the Christian is to wear all the time.”

Why should a disciple daily remember their baptism? One reason is that it will remind us of our union with Jesus Christ. Remembering your baptism when you watch someone else get baptized, or, every time you wash your face, wash your hands, or take a shower, will center your thoughts on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When you “rehearse the Gospel” by remembering your baptism, you are reminding yourself that have been united with Christ in a death like His. When you recall your baptism, you have another opportunity to be reminded that you have been born again to “walk in newness of life.” When you think back on your baptism, you can be reminded once again that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so you too will experience resurrection.

Suddenly washing your hands or face can take on more significance than fighting germs or trying to look good for others. Perhaps it doesn’t matter just how stylish your clothes are? Perhaps it really matters if you’re wearing your baptism everyday?

An Optional Embellishment for Worship?

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The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. Ezra 2:41

This verse may not strike you as being that important. You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? So 128 singers returned from the Babylonian exile. What’s so important about that? So the boys in Asaph’s family could carry a tune. Big deal.”

Imagine showing up to church on Sunday only to find out that there would be no singing. That would be strange. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a formal church service where there was no singing. And any Israelite would probably say the same thing: “It would be weird if there were no singing at the temple.”

Singing praises to God is a part of who we are. We are a singing people. And that’s why singing is not optional on Sunday mornings. We sing because we are a singing people.

Allen Ross says, “Singing is not, therefore, an optional embellishment of worship; it is a necessary requirement of it. By singing, the worshippers lift up their voices in beautiful words and memorable sounds appropriate to the beauty of the holiness of God…Singing songs of praise was, and is, the appropriate and enthusiastic way for the people to tell of the glorious and gracious works of the Lord.” (Recalling the Hope of Glory)

So start warming up your vocal chords for Sunday today. Gather with your church family on Sunday to sing. Gather to enthusiastically tell of the glorious and gracious works of the Lord. Gather to sing to Jesus!

The Smoke of Distrustful Thoughts

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And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” Revelation 12:10

In his book, The Bruised Reed, Puritan Richard Sibbes hits on something that I believe Christians often struggle with: our tendency to condemn others and ourselves.

We must have two eyes, one to see imperfections in ourselves and others, the other to see what is good… Those who are given to quarrelling with themselves always lack comfort, and through their infirmities they are prone to feed on such bitter things as will most nourish that disease which troubles them. These delight to be looking on the dark side of the cloud only. We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root. We must beware of false reasoning, such as: because our fire does not blaze out as others, therefore we have no fire at all… Some are as faulty in this way as if they had been hired by Satan, the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), to plead for him in accusing themselves.

Thoughts and feelings come and go; the Gospel stays the same. Beware the smoke of distrustful thoughts. Morbid introspection will only nourish the disease of condemnation. Instead, let’s become a church that focuses more on the evidence of God’s grace that we see in someone’s life, with less focus on how others have “blown it.” We’re all sinners here. And we all fall very short of the glory of God everyday (no surprise there, right?). Let’s rehearse the Gospel more and not so much our failures or the failures of others. Why be “hired by Satan” to accuse ourselves? While Satan may accuse us daily, we have something greater:

Consequently, he (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

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The Cross-dressing Preacher Who Rode His Horse into the Sea

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In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Ruth 1:1-5

…him who works all things according to the counsel of his will… Ephesians 1:11

Did you know that to read the Hebrew Bible, you have to read it backwards? The letters go from right to left. Even though the Hebrew language has been around a lot longer than English, we think it strange that it has to be read backwards. Maybe Moses would be perplexed to read from left to right? Maybe reading from right to left is normal? I’m not trying to discuss the validity of reading right to left, I’m really just trying to prepare you for something that one of my heroes, John Flavel, said, so let’s just get to it:

“Some providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backwards.”

Flavel is right. And if you don’t believe him, just ask Naomi and Ruth. There is no way that they could see that, through all of their pain, God was working for their good. But by the time Ruth gave birth to baby Obed, they would both affirm that God was indeed working for their good all along.

I think you can believe John Flavel’s words because he lived it. He was no stranger to suffering. His father was a pastor who was thrown in prison and then died from the plague. Flavel’s wife Joan died while giving birth to their first child. Their baby died as well. Flavel remarried again and his second wife died. He married for a third time and his third wife died. Kind of sounds like the opening verses to the book of Ruth, huh?

John Flavel experienced many hardships in his pastoral ministry. He was ejected from his pulpit by the government for nonconformity, but he continued to meet secretly with his parishioners. On occasion he would preach for them in the woods where some meetings lasted until midnight. Once he even had to dress as a woman on horseback in order to reach a secret meeting place so that he could preach and baptize people. Another time he was pursued by the authorities and had to plunge his horse into the sea and swim through rocks (which severely cut him) in order to escape. He suffered greatly in ministry and his final words demonstrate the perspective that he had through it all-

“I know that it will be well with me.”

John Flavel knew that even though he suffered much, God had a plan in it all. God indeed does work all things according to the counsel of His will. So you can trust Him. When things happen that you don’t understand and that make you scratch your head, know that He is working.

John Flavel also said, “Providence is like a curious piece of tapestry made of a thousand shreds, which, single, appear useless, but put together, they represent a beautiful history to the eye.”

You only have a piece of the puzzle now. One day you will see the complete picture.

Some providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backwards. One of these days we’ll all read backwards and see just what God was doing in every situation of our lives.

Benji

The Clouds Ye So Much Dread…

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As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… Genesis 50:20

What comforting words! What God-exalting words! Think about it: when Jospeh uttered these words, he was speaking 17 years after he first revealed himself to his brothers who had sold him into slavery. He never lost hope in the good, sovereign hand of Yahweh. Even when he first revealed himself to his brothers, Joseph pointed to the sovereignty of God over the events of his life 4x in Genesis 45:-9 (…God sent me… God sent me… it was not you who sent me here, but God… God has made me lord of all Egypt…).

Joseph understood the sovereignty of God over his life, even over all the tragedies that he experienced. Joseph knew that God was orchestrating every detail of his life for God’s glory, Joseph’s good, and the good of others. All of the suffering that Joseph experienced would end up bringing good to those in Egypt and his own family.

In his hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way, William Cowper says-

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Keep it fresh in your mind that God is in control of everything. Remind yourself often. God does move in mysterious ways. So don’t be afraid! Take fresh courage! Those dark clouds of suffering and pain and hardship and struggle and grief, the ones that we all dread, they are big with mercy and they shall break in blessings on your head. Those clouds that we dread are swollen, they’re bloated, they’re about to burst at the seams, and when they do, they will shower down a torrential downpour of blessings on you, both in this life and the next.

Trust me on this one: You can trust Him. You can trust Jesus.

The clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy… because of Jesus.

How Those Timber-cutting Sidonians Can Help You Enjoy the Lord

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“…Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” 1 Kings 5:6

What do we make of this verse? So the Sidonians were the best at cutting timber. Big deal.

Actually it was a big deal to Solomon. He was building the temple for Yahweh and he wanted the best materials cut by the best workers. That’s why he wanted Hiram, the pagan King of Tyre, to get him the best stuff.

Among the many truths that 1 Kings 5 can teach us, one thing that stands out to me was that Solomon was not opposed to using the “world” to further the kingdom of God (I am not talking about the “world” that the apostle John speaks of in 1 John 2:15-17). Solomon had no problem using Sidonian timber to build the temple so that God’s people could worship the Lord with gladness. I think we can apply that to ourselves when it comes to technology. We can use all the technology and advancements of our world to advance the Kingdom of God as long as we aren’t worshipping said technology.

Puritan William Gurnall put it this way:

Temporal good things are not the Christian’s freight, but his ballast, and therefore are to be desired to poise, not load the vessel.

All of the temporary material blessings that we enjoy are not the goal; treasuring Jesus above all is the goal. But we can use the temporary good things to help us treasure Jesus. Our “freight,” what we are transporting on the ships of our lives, is not earthly “stuff” but the Gospel message. We can use the world and technology and gadgets to advance the kingdom of God, but we do not load our vessels with these things. Or, as another Puritan said:

Let us use the world, but enjoy the Lord.” (Thomas Adams)

Use technology. Use your computer. Use your iPhone. Use your car. Use your television. Use your iPod. But use them in a way that advances the Kingdom of God and causes you to enjoy the Lord. So use that coffee maker to make that coffee and enjoy that coffee but as you enjoy that coffee, enjoy the Creator of the coffee plant. Enjoy the coffee plant that grows and produces the coffee cherries that contain the “seed” that eventually becomes your coffee. But as you enjoy your coffee, give thanks to the God who made the coffee plant and enjoy Him as your greatest Treasure.

Let us use the world, but enjoy the Lord.

A Verse to Build Your Life On

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“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31-34

I love Peter. He reminds me of me. What disciple can’t relate to Peter? Who hasn’t blown it and wondered if God could still use them? That’s why Jesus’ words are so comforting. But His words aren’t just for Peter. When Jesus said, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” He was speaking about all of the disciples (the “you” here is plural). Satan wanted to shake the faith of every one of the disciples, much like wheat is shaken violently to separate it from the chaff. But Jesus prayed for them (see John 17; Hebrews 7:25). That’s what He does because He is the Good Shepherd.

But when Jesus said, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail…” He was speaking to Peter specifically (the “you” here is singular). Jesus, of course, prayed for all of the disciples, but He specifically prayed for Peter’s impending thrice-repeated denial (see Luke 22:54-62). Jesus knew that Peter would deny Him so He prayed for him. When Peter is restored after his heart-crushing denial of His Lord, it is not Peter’s determination that restores him. It was the prayer of Jesus that enabled him by grace to return to ministry.

Like Peter, verse 32 is a verse you can build your life on: “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Verse 32 is a verse that is full of grace and redemption. It’s a verse that demonstrates the power of the Gospel for weak disciples like us. It’s a verse that’s full of Gospel hope. Just as sure as you will fail and blow it somewhere and in some way in your life, so too Jesus is praying for you. He intercedes for His people. What a comfort that truth brings to those who belong to the “frequent failure club.” So pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Repent of your sin. Hate your sin. Turn back to Jesus again. Treasure Him. Pray for grace to deal with any consequences. Lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Hebrews 12:12). Rehearse the Gospel. His kindness leads you to repentance (Romans 2:4). And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers and sisters.

The Greatest and Most Pleasant Attraction

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Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:3-4

Sometimes I struggle to believe that God really loves me. I know that’s silly, but to be honest, that’s where I am sometimes. I know that God loves me, but often I become like Naomi (in the book of Ruth) and think that He doesn’t. Welcome to my world. It’s silly, it’s down right ridiculous of me to think this way because God has shown His great love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And I know I’m not alone. Many Christians feel like this. The following words by Walter Marshall have helped me to get perspective. Maybe they’ll help you too.

“You cannot love God if you are under the continual, secret suspicion that he is really your enemy. You cannot love God if you think that he condemns and hates you… Your love for God must be won and drawn out by your understanding of God’s love and goodness towards you… You simply cannot love God unless you know and understand how much he loves you…When you love him, it is because you see that he has been so good to you!… God does not drive you along with whips and terrors, or by the rod of the schoolmaster, the law. Rather, he leads you and draws you to walk in his ways by pleasant attractions (Hosea 11:3-4). The love of Christ…is the greatest and most pleasant attraction to encourage you to godly living (2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 12:1).” Excerpts from The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ

God is leading us with cords of kindness and bands of love. He is drawing us to walk in His ways by pleasant attractions. If you’re feeling like Naomi, look to Jesus. He is not behind you, tightly holding a whip and threatening terror. He is before you. He is drawing you to Himself. He is the Pleasant Attraction.

Let Him suck you in today.

Spilling Thanksgiving Everywhere Like a Drowsy Coffee-maker

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…abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:7

I was struck by the last 3 words in this verse last week. I had a hunch that the Greek word for “abounding” was the one that Paul uses often in his letters. So I got out my Greek New Testament and sure enough, I was right (for once!). This word has to do with “overflowing the set boundaries.” Think of your favorite coffee mug. There is a set boundary on that mug that you dare not go over no matter how tired you are when you wake up. You may fill it up to the rim, but you won’t keep pouring that coffee into the mug without your internal “when” speaking up (unless, of course, you really aren’t awake yet.).

That’s the idea Paul has here. He wants the Colossian church to “overflow the set boundaries” when it comes to thanksgiving. We naturally set boundaries in our lives for the things that we will give thanks for: grace, eternal life, family, job, food, etc. We should be thanking God for all of those things. But do we ever consider thanking God for the trials and the hardships and the sufferings we experience?

Paul’s words are a gentle rebuke to us. We should be thanking God for everything that happens because we know that He can and will work in and through them for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). We should be overflowing with thanksgiving. That’s exactly what Paul does himself in the letter to the Colossians. We see him discipling this church to overflow with thanksgiving because he overflows with thanksgiving (see Colossians 1:3; 12; 2:7; 3:15, 16; 4:2).

Kent Hughes says, “Thankfulness is a good test of our spiritual state. A thankless spirit betrays a life which is no longer focusing on the greatness of Christ.”

Wanna be more thankful? Focus on Jesus. Rehearse the Gospel, which is exactly what Paul does numerous times in his letter to the Colossians (for instance, see Colossians 1:9-14). May we become disciples who abound and overflow and spill thanksgiving everywhere. May we never stop pouring thanksgiving when our sinful hearts want to say, “When.” Why not be thankful today? Thank God for all the spiritual benefits that you have in the Gospel. Thank God for all the material things you enjoy (coffee, warm water in your shower, a bed, friends, etc). Thank God for all the trials which are conforming you to the image of Jesus. We truly have a lot to be thankful for. Suddenly, it seems easy to be abounding in thanksgiving.

The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim

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And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3

The fourth chapter of 1 Samuel is a sad chapter. It’s really sad because it reminds me of me. Let me explain. Israel went to battle the Philistines one day and they ended up filling up 4,000 body bags with their own soldiers. Not a good day for Israel. So they think to themselves that they must have lost the battle because the ark of the covenant was not with them. So they have UPS deliver the ark, which actually has a longer name: “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:4). With a name like that, Israel thinks for sure they will win the next battle. But they don’t. Israel once again gets pulverized by the Philistines, only this time, the Philistines steal “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim.” Not a good day for Israel.

You do realize that you’re supposed to chuckle when you read that the Philistines stole the ark, don’t you? The author of 1 Samuel wants you to laugh when you read in verse 11 that the “the ark of God was captured.” As if the Philistines really captured “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim.” Yahweh, the One who is enthroned on the cherubim, let the Philistines “capture” Him. But, why? Why would God let His name get dragged through the mud? Why would He give the Philistines an opportunity to go on Facebook and brag about how they not only defeated Israel, but actually “captured” their god, Yahweh? The reason the Lord did it was to teach Israel a lesson: Yahweh (and the ark) is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Israel assumed that they lost the battle because they did not have the ark. Israel was using God like a lucky rabbit’s foot (Ralph Davis). After they lost the first time, Israel should have stopped to pray. They should have wept and repented over any sin. Instead of weeping, Israel was just interested in winning. Israel was more interested in success than repentance. Instead of using God to win, Israel should have remembered a few things about the ark: It showed that Yahweh reigns over all creation. It showed that Yahweh had revealed Himself and His character (because the 10 commandments were kept inside the ark). Israel served a God who did not leave them i the dark as to what He expected. And the ark showed them that reconciliation and forgiveness was possible because of the mercy seat. Israel served the God of the universe who welcomes sinners into His presence, and yet they just wanted to take Him out to battle to win instead of first repenting of any sin and then enjoying His presence.

And we often do the same thing. We want to win, not weep. Do we use God just to win or have things go right or just to get what we want? Or, do we pray and read His word because we meet with Him, the God of the universe?

May we become a church that is quick to repent. May we become a church who enjoys the Giver more than His gifts. May we become a church that humbles ourselves before “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Hosts Who is Enthroned on the Cherubim.”

Benji

To Take Tests and to Teach War

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Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. Judges 3:1-4

I don’t like tests; I never have. Even if I had mastered the material for a test to be given in school, I still hated taking tests. Too much pressure. Sweaty palms. Racing heart. I still don’t like tests. But I’m learning that discipleship entails being tested by the Lord and I don’t necessarily like that.

Judges 3 informs us that Yahweh left many nations in the promised land precisely to test Israel and to teach men how to fight in battles. Of course, the Lord could have wiped out every enemy and made life easy and sweet for Israel. But Judges tells us that they were left for a reason: to teach war/to test Israel. It wasn’t that the boys in Israel did not know how to swing a sword. Every little boy learns that at an early age. Yahweh left these nations so that the Israelites would understand that a life devoted to Him involved a fight and struggle on their part and He graciously wanted to teach them that truth. As Daniel Block states:

“When Yahweh expresses his determination that the present generation of Israelites should learn war, his concern is not primarily that they learn how to conduct war but that they learn the nature and significance of this war. They have entered the land as Yahweh’s covenant people with the mandate to drive out the Canaanites and to claim it as his gift to them. The continued presence of the Canaanites represents a test whether they will accept Yahweh as their sovereign and their responsibilities in fulfilling his agenda. In accordance with earlier pronouncements (Deut 7:1-5), Yahweh will not do for Israel what they are not willing to do for themselves. The Canaanite nations represent not only a challenge to him and his historical program, but they also remain a test, proving whether or not Israel will accept her status as his covenant people, with all the privileges and obligations attached thereto. This generation needs to learn that they have been called to a holy war, that Yahweh is the commander-in-chief, and that the enemy is to be totally exterminated.” (Judges)

The Lord left the Canaanites precisely to keep reminding the people of Israel that they served Him, they were in a holy war against sin, and that they must work with Him to destroy their enemies. We can glean several applications from this passage:

1. God tests His children. We may not like this idea, but it is true. God never tempts us to sin (that comes from within us!), but He does test us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. James 1:2-3, 12-14

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ… Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4;12

Are you experiencing tests and trials? Are you suffering? God may be testing you to see whether or not you “would obey the commandments of the LORD” (Judges 3:4). Don’t despise the trial and test. He is working for your good and His glory. How will you respond to the test?

2. God may not remove the temptation or trial. Wouldn’t we all love it if we had a promise in Scripture that went something like this: “Ask the Lord and He will remove all temptation to sin so that you never have to struggle with it again. Also, beloved, ask Him to take away all your trials and hardships and He will wave the magic wand of grace and give you an easy, care-free life.”

We don’t have a promise like that in God’s word. But what we do have is better! Read the promise given to Paul (and all God’s children!) as he struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” (whatever that was)-

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

We also have a promise that God will provide a way of escape out of temptation-

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

When you are tempted to sin, look for the escape hatch. It’s there; God will provide it. Endure by His grace.

3. God has called us to make war on sin. Just as Israel was called to totally exterminate the enemy, we too are called to mortify sin. It never ends. The battle will continue until the day we die. One of my seminary professors once asked an elderly man what it was like being a Christian as a very old man. He replied, “The passions never die.” We will be making war on sin until the day we die. There is no “vacation” when it comes to putting sin to death.

Be encouraged today, brothers and sisters. God may not remove the test or the trial, but He will empower you by His grace to endure. Trust Him and keep obeying His word. God may not remove the temptation, but He will provide an escape route. Trust Him and keep obeying His word.

Still learning to take His tests and to make war on my sin,
Benji

Don’t Be a Donut Killjoy

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Toby: Who brought in donuts?
Michael: Somebody got donuts for my birthday!
Toby: Happy birthday!
Michael: You didn’t know it was my birthday.
Toby: I… guess I forgot.
Michael: Well, I guess I forgot to give you a donut [closes box].
Toby: Are you serious?
Michael: Mmm.

That was a scene from The Office. It reminds me how sometimes Christians can be killjoys who close the “donut boxes” that God meant for us to enjoy. Paul warned Timothy of this-

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Everything created by God is good. You can’t get too far in Genesis 1 without realizing that. But, what about donuts? They are good. Krispy Kreme is good. The problem with donuts is that we may be tempted to eat too many and we all know that that won’t end well. Eating too many donuts (which are good things) will take a toll on our stomachs: we’ll either experience a stomachache or a “stomach expansion.” But that doesn’t make donuts bad. The problem lies not with the donuts, but with the human being that may consume too many to their detriment. Moderation truly is a wise ideal.

Everything created by God is good. This is what Paul is trying to get across to his friend, ministry partner, and young pastor Timothy. False teachers had crept into the church and were teaching that marriage was bad (even though God said it was good in Genesis!) and certain foods should be avoided. Paul counters by reminding Timothy that all God has made is good. That means donuts are good. The key lies in how we receive them: to be received with thanksgiving.

Everything created by God is good. But some people gauge holiness by what is denied or given up. They pride themselves in what they abstain from. They look down on others when they enjoy God’s good gifts. Paul gauges holiness by what one enjoys as a gift received from God with thanksgiving. Of course that does not mean we can receive with thanksgiving something that we know from Scripture is sinful. We are not called to enjoy sin with thanksgiving. But we can receive the good things that God has created with thanksgiving. Physical exercise is beneficial (1 Timothy 4:7). Wine can be helpful (1 Timothy 5:23). Food, clothing, and money are good things, but they can be abused (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

God is not a cosmic killjoy. In fact, Paul reminds Timothy of this one more time as he closes out his letter:

…God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 1 Timothy 6:17

God gives us many things to enjoy in this life because God is good. Everything that God created is good. And that includes donuts. Just be careful how many you eat.

To Eat and Drink and Be Joyful

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And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15

The following excerpt is from missionary Jim Elliot’s diary, dated 15 January 1951-

“I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coat tail and the heavens hailing your heart — to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth!”

I think Jim captured the essence of Ecclesiastes 8:15- we are called to enjoy God and His creation. But what about the fact that sin has so tarnished this world? What about all the suffering that surrounds us? How are we to reconcile enjoying God and living in a sin-wrecked world? One of my mentors (that I studied Hebrew/Old Testament under in seminary), Dr. Gordon Johnston, explains the intent of the Teacher, the author of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth)-

“Qoheleth is not commending a self-indulgent lifestyle of Epicurean hedonism. Nor is he lamenting the absolute futility of life and the lack of eternal retribution. He is submitting to the reality that in a sin-cursed world there is much of human existence marked by relative futility. Since the righteous man cannot assume that he will automatically experience temporal prosperity and blessings on this earth, he should – at the very least – enjoy each day to its fullest as a gift from God. D. R. Glenn notes, ‘Each day’s joys should be received as gifts from God’s hands and be savored as God permits.’” (The NET Bible, p.1137)

That’s exactly what we mean when we say in our mission statement at the church where I serve as pastor: “We exist to ignite a passion in every person to glorify and enjoy God everywhere and in everything.” God made us to know Him and enjoy Him and His creation. This is only possible because of the Gospel; because of Jesus. So go ahead and enjoy your Lord today. Enjoy His creation. Enjoy a cup of Starbucks. Enjoy some pie. Enjoy a nap. Enjoy the company of friends and families. Savor all of these “graces” as God permits.

Thrilled that the God we serve is not a cosmic killjoy!

Flabbergasted!

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, 
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
 and I will declare your greatness.
 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. Psalm 145:5-7

I love these verses! This psalm is highlighting the need to pass on the Gospel to the next generation, something that we take very seriously at the church where I serve as pastor. We want to make sure that the kids that come through the church hear about the great God that we serve. But did you notice the role that personal meditation plays in this process?

Meditating, thinking, pondering, etc on the glorious splendor and wondrous works of God gets “sandwiched” between 2 verses that speak of the next generation’s reception of God’s truth. What this means is this:

~ Unless we personally meditate and think about how infinitely glorious God is, we will never tell the next generation about Him.
~ Unless we personally meditate on all of His incredible works, we will never tell the next generation about Him.

In other words, if we don’t “own” the Gospel ourselves, we will never be motivated to pass it on to others. Practically, it looks likes this:

~ Unless we personally meditate and think about how infinitely glorious God is, we will never tell our children about Him. We will never have family devotions. We will never talk about the Lord when we sit, walk, lie down and rise (see Deuteronomy 6:7).
~ Unless we personally meditate on all of His incredible works, we will never serve in our churches through ministries such as AWANA, youth group, Sunday school, VBS, etc.

But (and linger on this “but”), if we think about how glorious, awesome, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, magnificent, wonderful, amazing, stunning, staggering, mind-boggling, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, excellent, and marvelous God is, then we might just be flabbergasted enough to tell the next generation about Him.

Why not get started on telling the next generation right now. How so? For starters, you can read all of Psalm 145 and see what kind of God you serve… and then meditate on it. Maybe you’ll want to share what you know about God with your children or the children and youth at the church where you worship?

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, 
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.”

Why Ebenezer Shouldn’t Be a Scrooge

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Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12

In 1st Samuel 7 we find the nation of Israel returning to the LORD after some 20 years of what appears to be half-hearted repentance (see 7:2). Finally fed up with the empty promises of sin and the worship of the gods of the Canaanites, Israel returns wholeheartedly to Yahweh (7:3-11). Then Samuel sets up a large stone and calls it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” It was to serve as a reminder that the Lord had helped the Israelites not only defeat the Philistines, but that He had in fact always been faithful to His people. That’s why Samuel says, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”

As far back as Israel could remember, the Lord had helped his chosen people. Out of Egypt. Through the Red Sea. Through the 40 year wilderness journey. Entering and possessing the promised land. And now in His grace to fully restore them. The Lord had always been there helping.

John Calvin said, “So numerous are the dangers which surround us, that we couldn’t stand a single moment, if His eye did not watch over our preservation.”

He’s right. And so is Samuel. God has been watching over His children and helping them, even up until the moment that you began reading this blog post. And He will continue to help us. That’s the way God is. That’s the kind of God He is. He helps His people. And we see His help most clearly in the Incarnation. God has helped us in the Gospel by sending Jesus. And God has sent His Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 16:7).

Think about this today: if God took His eye off of you for even a single second, you would probably crumble. (I agree with Calvin, I think you would!)

Be like Samuel today and tell people, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” Don’t be a “scrooge” with your thankfulness. Raise an Ebenezer!

Thankful for Yahweh’s help,
Benji

The God We Cannot Exaggerate

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I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. Psalm 145:1-3

I love the “time element” of these verses. David tells us that he praises God today (and every day) and he will praise God forever and ever. In this life and the next, David will worship Yahweh. The infinite God is not limited by time, nor is His praise. This is because He is great. His greatness is unsearchable. David wants us to get the point: God is great. Three times he mentions God’s greatness: Great is the LORD…greatly to be praised… his greatness is unsearchable.

Francis Chan explains the greatness of God-

“Many Spirit-filled authors have exhausted the thesaurus in order to describe God with the glory He deserves. His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us that our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” –Francis Chan, Crazy Love, p.31

I love that last line: “Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?”

Go ahead and try it. Try and exaggerate His goodness, His mercy, His grace, His love. You can’t. His greatness is unsearchable and uncontainable by any human or angelic language. So just stop right now and worship Him. Thank Him for all that He is, all that He does. And then go tell somebody at work or school or neighborhood or home or church about how incredible your God is!

Did you just worship Him? Well, guess what?-

“Because God is eternal and omniscient, the praise that we give him will never fade from his consciousness…” Wayne Grudem

Think about that today. All of the praise and worship that you give Him (or just gave Him) never fades from His memory! That will change the way you sing songs on Sunday morning. His praise endures forever!

Languages, nations, people groups, etc cannot exhaust God’s praise! The variegated praise of our God lingers in His mind forever! Even if you try and exaggerate all of His attributes (and you can’t), your feeble attempt will never fade from His consciousness. He’s that great!

Humbled by an infinite God,
Benji

Grace is Only for Sinners

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He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Did you notice all of the first person pronouns in the Pharisee’s prayer? I… I… I… I… I… There’s not one mention of what God has done. There’s no mention of grace. All that the Pharisee seems to be consumed with is his righteousness and the sin of others. I think we all like to think of ourselves as the tax collector in this story. He’s the good guy. That’s probably how we always read the Bible. Too often we identify with the hero of the story. We probably do that because it makes us feel good about ourselves. And therein lies the problem: we are focused on us. We are focused on “I.”

As much as we may hate to admit it, we don’t play the role of the tax collector as often as we do the role of the self-righteous Pharisee. Sorry if that bothers you, but I’m just telling it like it is!

Jerry Bridges says, “The problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin, but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because, you see, grace is only for sinners. After love and humility, there are at least twenty-five more Christian virtues to put on, among which there is surely a lot of room for all of us to grow. Yet to the extent that we miss the mark in those positive Christian character traits, we are sinners in need of God’s grace.”~ The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness

So now that I’ve convinced you that you are probably more like the self-righteous Pharisee, let me remind you that Jesus still loves you. He knows that it’s easy for you and I to point out the sins and flaws and weaknesses of others while highlighting our own “righteousness.” And guess what? He still loves you. He still loves me. So instead of focusing on what others have failed to do or on what you “seem” to do better than others, focus on Jesus. Focus on Jesus because he loves humble sinners. Remember, grace is only for sinners. And that’s what you are! I know that might sting a little, but I wouldn’t be a good pastor (or blogger) if I didn’t tell you that you are one.

A sinner just like you,
Benji

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The Splicing of Our Limp Wires

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“Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock.” Ezekiel 36:37

When you really think about it, it’s pretty amazing that the God of the universe invites us to not only seek His presence in prayer, but that He actually does things in this world because we pray. Amazing. It’s amazing because we are weak, frail, and helpless mortal beings connecting with the eternal God. Suddenly prayer doesn’t seem so boring.

John Piper says,

“Prayer is the coupling of primary and secondary causes. It is the splicing of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven. How astonishing that God wills to do His work through people. It is doubly astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so. God loves to bless His people. But even more He loves to do it in answer to prayer.” (Brothers, We are Not Professionals, p.53)

Suddenly prayer doesn’t seem so boring! God has invited us into His presence. That’s amazing! Will you turn down His invitation? He actually wants you to come and pray! Join others and pray as you “put the Lord to remembrance” (Isaiah 62:6) and “pour our hearts out before Him” (Psalm 62:8).

May we become a church that recognizes our own frailty and may that catapult us into prayer. May we become a church that is known as a church that is busy splicing our limp wires to the lighting bolt of heaven!

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My Name is Benji Magness, and I’m a Recovering Pharisee

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He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

When I read this parable, I immediately identify with the tax collector. I’m humble, I’m repentant, and doggone it, people like me! My guess is that I’m much more like the Pharisee than I like to admit. Why do we do that? When we read the Bible, why do we often identify with the hero of the story? How many of you have read the story of David and Goliath and thought, “I’m just like Goliath. Always resisting the Lord.” I bet you’ve read it and thought, “I’m like the underdog David. God helps me fight and win.” Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but I’d argue that the story is really about The Hero, namely Jesus, who would come one day and really destroy God’s enemies. My hunch is that we all like to think of ourselves as Luke 18 tax collectors instead of the Pharisee. And that’s why we need to heed Jack Miller’s words-

“My name is Jack Miller, and I am a recovering Pharisee.”

If you read the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18, you might conclude that I speak too severely about myself. I am not usually a strict, rigid, unfeeling religious person as the man in the parable. But there is still enough of the Pharisee in me- and, I believe, in every one of us. The Pharisee is essentially a person who is more aware of the sins of others than of his own; he consequently feels superior to other human beings and judges them without first taking the beam out of his own eye (Luke 6:39ff). He also lacks loving hope. He does not expect grace to do much for him or others.

We recovering Pharisees often find that in our minds we have collected albums full of dark snapshots of other people, ourselves, and God and His grace. (Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, p.59)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got lots and lots of “photo albums” full of dark snapshots of people who have wronged me and dark snapshots of all of their shortcomings. It’s so easy to be more aware of the sins of others! And it’s definitely harder to beat your breast and cry for mercy for your own sins.

May God give grace to us recovering Pharisees!

Benji

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I Don’t Love Jesus With All of My Heart

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40

“I got nothing.” That’s bad grammar (I know) and that’s exactly how I started our staff meeting this week. I usually lead the devotional as we begin, but this week I was in a “funk.” I just didn’t really feel like sharing anything. So instead of pretending or buying into the “fake it until you make it” philosophy, I just told the truth. Shouldn’t pastors always tell the truth? Yes. But sometimes, even pastors “fake it.” Sometimes pastors are phonies. Perhaps you have those days, too? Days where you just don’t “feel” it. What do you do on those days? Fake it? Or, do you keep it real? I’d rather keep it real. I hate myself when I’m a phony so I just straight-up told the staff that I had nothing for them on Monday morning.

Fortunately, Pastor James stepped up and shared some Scripture in our staff meeting and really knocked it out of the park. I love seeing God work like this. He uses the body of Christ (plural) to minister, not just the believer of Christ (singular). We’ve got a great staff here at Grace and I hope you understand that. I thank God for this team, especially when I have days that I don’t have it all together.

The reality is that we simply do not have it all together. None of us do. And I’m okay with that. Jesus has it all together and I’m definitely okay with that. We’re broken, fallen sinners and for some reason we like to act like we do have it all together and we try desperately to convince others that we do.

The reality is that we don’t love Jesus with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. At least we don’t all the time. And we certainly don’t love our neighbors the way we love ourselves. The law has exposed us as “bad” lovers of God and neighbor. But the good news is that Jesus loves us with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength… all the time. That’s pretty freeing, if you ask me.

One of my favorite authors, and the man who has single-handedly taught me more about the Gospel than any other human, is Jack Miller. He’s the guy who originated the phrase, “Preach the Gospel to yourself.” He said, “But if we take the first commandment in the manner God intended, we are all exposed as worldly to the core. We ‘clean-living’ sinners are no less fallen than anyone else. It is the nature we have received from Adam that condemns us, and our own self-centered habits reveal our kinship with our fallen father. Yet the first commandment also brilliantly illuminates the means of our healing; it makes clear why the Father so freely and righteously accepts the work of His Son on our behalf… The Father in turn rejoiced that at last one man stood on the center stage of history who could say truthfully, ‘I love the Lord with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind.’” (Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, p.42)

I’m so glad Jesus loved the Lord with His whole being for me. And I’m so glad that Jesus loves me with all of His heart. “Jesus loves us with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I love the sound of that!

So why don’t you own up to your failures, your sin, your lack of love, your bitterness, your unforgiveness, your worry… should I keep going? Just admit that you are broken and Jesus is perfect. And then let that truth cause you to love Him and love others.

Just keepin’ it real (like every pastor should),
Benji

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Humbled to Pray

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Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3

This verse is so convicting! How so? Well, for starters, I’m not that meek. I don’t think that I’m much like Moses at all. The Hebrew word (‘anaw) that the ESV translates as “meek” means, “humble.” See! Now you know why I’m not like Moses- I’m not very humble! But enough about me; let’s talk about Moses. Numbers 12:3 states that he was very humble, more than anyone alive at this time. The NET Bible suggests that the idea behind the Hebrew word ‘anaw is “more tolerant” or “longsuffering.” That helps us to better understand Moses. He was tolerant and patient with other people.

For instance, in Exodus 10:17 (after the 8th plague) Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to pray for him that Yahweh would forgive his sin and remove the plague of locusts. And Moses did it! He prayed for his enemy. Fast-forward to Exodus 32 where the nation of Israel breaks covenant with the Lord and worships the golden calf. How does Moses respond when Yahweh says that He is going to wipe them out? Moses intercedes! Moses also prayed for Miriam’s leprosy to be healed after she berated his leadership (Numbers 12:10-13) and for the Israelites after they grumbled about missing the food in Egypt (Numbers 14).

This is why Moses was humble. He was brought low by his own sinfulness that when he saw other sinners sinning, he was empathetic (remember, he killed a guy! See Exodus 2:11-15). And how did Moses respond to all of these people that let him down? He prayed for them. How convicting! I don’t know about you, but if I am ever passionate to pray for my “enemies” or those who let me down, I’m more inclined to pray an imprecatory prayer like Psalm 3:7. Well, maybe I wouldn’t pray that God would strike their cheek and knock their teeth out, but I might secretly desire it. Not so with Moses. He was so humbled by his own sin that he could extend grace and mercy to other sinners.

How about you? How do you respond when people doubt your leadership? How do you respond when people offend and hurt you? How do you respond when people let you down? How do you respond to your enemies? I often respond by rehearsing the pain and the wrongs. I often respond by having “conversations” in my head about what I will say to them, what harsh words I will speak to them to hurt them for hurting me. See! I told you I wasn’t like Moses! And I’m certainly not like Jesus. But He loves me and that’s why I’m trying to obey His command-

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” Luke 6:27-29

Let’s become a church that spends less time rehearsing wrongs and more time rehearsing the Gospel. Let’s spend more time turning the other cheek and less time wishing that God would strike our enemies’ cheeks. Let’s be humbled by our own sin so that we will actually love our enemies, do good to them, and bless them. Only constant Gospel rehearsal will humble us to pray like Moses.

Benji

Walking Through the Front Door Messy

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O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. Psalm 139:1-4

If you stop and think about these verses, they are quite flabbergasting. God knows us. He knows every nook and cranny of any and everything about us. Before you said what you said to the person you talked to before you read this, God knew what you were going to say 10 million years ago. Psalm 139 is very humbling.

God knows everything about us and He still wants to be around us! He desires that we seek His face through prayer and yet we often struggle to pray. Or, we may honestly confess that we don’t desire prayer. Even if we come clean and say that we don’t like to pray or struggle to pray, God still wants to be around us. Amazing.

I’ve found these words from Paul Miller very encouraging-

“Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart… A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer… Jesus wants to be with us without pretense when we come to him in prayer. Instead, we often try to be something we aren’t… Nothing exposes our selfishness and powerlessness like prayer… God also cheers when we come to him with our wobbling, unsteady prayers… The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy… Don’t try to get the prayer right; just tell God where you are and what’s on your mind. That’s what little children do… The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask. The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person… Tell him where you are weary. If you don’t begin with where you are, then where you are will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary… The very things we try to get rid of— our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness— are what gets us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works… So instead of being paralyzed by who you are, begin with who you are. That’s how the gospel works. God begins with you. It’s a little scary because you’re messed up.” Excerpts from The Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

God knows you. He knows you’re messed up. He knows that you have “issues.” And He still loves you and wants to be around you. He wants you to come messy- with your messy hair and messy life and messy family situation and all your crazy messiness. Come messy. That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works. That’s how Jesus works!

Benji

Putting Promises to Work

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2nd Corinthians 1:20

Life can be discouraging. Ministry can be discouraging. The apostle Paul wasn’t immune to this. Just read the first chapter of 2nd Corinthians! How did Paul overcome discouragement? He clung to the promises of God. And that’s exactly what William Bridge (1600-1670) suggests we do in his book, A Lifting Up for the Downcast-

“Are all your comforts gone, and would you fain have them restored? Then read and read the Scriptures much. If you cannot read them yourself, get some others to read them to you… The more full a man’s mind is, the more free from temptations and fears. Now Scripture matter is the most filling matter. The more you see Christ walking in the sweet shades of divine love toward poor sinners, the sooner will your faith revive, and your comforts be restored. And where can you see Jesus Christ walking, and taking His turns with poor sinners under the shades of divine love, but in the Scriptures? Stand there awhile, and you shall see Him, and your heart will say, And why not one turn of love with me, oh my Saviour? Study, read, and read much the Scriptures.

But, say you, if I do read the Scriptures, and read them much, I shall then meet with some promise, possibly many, and now I cannot apply them, discouraged as I am; I shall see the promises indeed, and say, There is such and such an old friend of mine, but it is now mine enemy; the promise will not own me, and I cannot apply it, and so it will do me no good.

You cannot tell what the promise will do till you come to apply it. The promise never yields its power and strength till it is applied; it works when it is put to work, and not before… It may be you look upon such and such a promise at a distance, and you say, Oh, there is my enemy; now it will not help me, it will sting me, it will undo me; but put forth your hand again to it, and it will become a promise, a rod in your hand, as comfortable as ever it was before.

And if the promise does not come to you, go you to it. Sometimes the promise comes to us, sometimes we go to it. When the promise comes to you, you have joy; when you go to it, you have peace, and this peace may last longer than the joy. But remember this as an everlasting rule, that your very relying upon the promise makes it yours.”

Are you discouraged? Are you downcast? Then read God’s word. And keep reading it. Find a promise and hang on to it. God’s promises work when you put them to work.

Benji

Like Drinking Poison

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Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32

I know of two Christians who are angry at each other and won’t reconcile. The sad part is that they used to be very good friends. They used to spend time with each other, bear each other’s burdens, attend Bible study and prayer meetings together, serve alongside each other in ministry, etc and now they won’t even talk to each other. It’s so sad. But this story is not unique; it happens to many disciples. In fact, I have seen this numerous times in my life. Apparently it was happening in the church at Philippi (see Philippians 4:2-3). Maybe you’ve experienced this, too.

What do you do when this happens? The answer: rehearse the Gospel. That’s what Paul does in Ephesians 4:32-

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Unfortunately many people never get to verse 32. They stay stuck in the “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and…malice” of verse 31. Instead of reminding themselves that in Christ God has forgiven them of an ocean full of sin, they harbor bitterness and un-forgiveness. Instead of talking to the person that has offended them, they gossip about and slander the person. Meanwhile, as they nurse their hurts, they are actually doing harm to themselves.

There’s a quote I’ve heard many times (but no one seems to know who really authored it) that best captures how idiotic it is to harbor bitterness and un-forgiveness:

“Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

It’s a little morbid, but true. When you harbor bitterness and refuse to forgive someone, you’re damaging yourself (and perhaps a whole church community!). If you’re struggling to forgive, think about Jesus. Think about the 10+ million sins that He has forgiven you of when you didn’t deserve it. Think about how good God has been to reconcile you to Himself. Rehearse the Gospel. Then forgive. And keep on forgiving (see Matthew 18:21-35). Pray for the hearts of all involved. Get outside help, if needed (see Philippians 4:2-3). Go to the person and talk. Tell them how you feel. Listen to their side. And watch God work. It’s amazing how a simple, honest conversation can be the catalyst for the Gospel to do its work.

Trying to remember that forgiven sinners forgive sinners,
Benji

Like a Weaned Child

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131

I love this psalm. It’s probably one of my favorites. I love the imagery that David employs here. And it’s the perfect song for any of us that are stressing and worrying about life.

Somehow David has pulled off the miraculous. Life is chaotic. Life is stressful. And yet David doesn’t lift his heart up in pride by worrying about life, as if he was the solution. He does not assume to be God and claim to know how life should be. David’s eyes are not raised too high. He does not let all of the “unknowns” and “what ifs” occupy space in his mind. Thinking and stressing about all the marvelous and overwhelming issues of life are not consuming David.

David has calmed and quieted his soul. Just like a weaned child sitting in his mother’s lap, David is calm. What does the weaning process look like for a child? The child gets fussy and demands to nurse. The mother says “no” and the child gets fussy. The process continues until the child understands. Once the process is complete, the child can rest content when he sits in the lap of his mother. He is so close to that which used to provide tranquility and yet the child is not fussy or demanding. The child is calm.

David says that his soul is like that child. Life’s struggles are overwhelming him and yet David is calm. He’s not fussy or demanding. How? How is this possible when life is overwhelming? The answer: David’s hope is in the Lord. David knows that God is faithful. David knows that God has never let him down, therefore, he can trust Him. Never! Never has God let His people down! Why not trust this God? We would be crazy not to trust Him!

Got problems? Got burdens? Got stress? Then get Psalm 131. I mean get it real good into your heart. I mean, “get it.” Do you “get it?” Get it into your heart and rest because you hope in the Lord.

Praying that our souls would be like weaned, fussy-free children,

Benji

Entertaining Goats in Goatland

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“If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God” (p. 23). William Still, The Work of the Pastor

http://www.wtsbooks.com/work-of-the-pastor-william-still-9781845505738

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Jesus Loves You… and I’m Trying

“…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you…” 1st Thessalonians 3:11-12

I once tweeted this on Twitter: “Jesus loves you… and I’m trying.” I’m sure some people raised their eyebrows and were confused. I know it sounds harsh. Shouldn’t a pastor love everyone? Yes. But pastors, like all humans, are sinners. Pastors don’t always love people… even in their church or immediate family!

So there you have it. The cat is out of the bag! I struggle to love people. I hope that brings some encouragement to you. I hope you realize that you are normal if you struggle to love people in your life- even if those people are at Grace Baptist Church. Even if one of those people you struggle to love is me! I’m okay with it. I’m okay with it if you admit your struggle and then call on God for grace to love me or the other “unlovables” in your life.

Paul knew this. Paul knew that “normal” humans are sinners who struggle to love other sinners. That’s why he prayed for the Thessalonians that the Lord would make them increase and abound in love for one another. Only the Lord can do it. Only God can enable you to love those people that you don’t love because God is the expert in loving people who are unlovable. Case in point: He loves you! (You did know that sometimes even you are unloveable, yes?) Thank God He loves us! God is love and He alone can enable you to love those people who get under your skin and whose very presence is like nails on a chalkboard to you.

Jesus loves you… and I’m trying.

Pastor Benji

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