Author: Benji Magness

Known in many circles as 'Rabbi', Ben-jamin is an artist and pastor who can often be seen with a scruffy beard, drinking Starbucks, listening to reggae, wearing black, changing a diaper or reading backwards. His name in Hebrew means "son of the right hand"- which ironically is the hand he would use to paint, draw or even type for this blog if he ever found the time to do so.

Parenting By Prayer

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Tonight, I was reminded of 2 things that I often forget. The first one, I don’t forget as much, since there are so many sinners in our house:

1. Anyone one of us Magness people can have meltdowns or fall apart at any moment. Any sweet moment can become a nightmare in just a few breaths.

2. What Paul Miller said is true: “It didn’t take me long to realize that I did my best parenting by prayer. I began to speak less to the kids and more to God. It was actually quite relaxing.”

Parents, hang in there. Pray, love, and then keep praying. Jesus will do His work in your kids’ hearts and in yours.

Thus, Shame | Psalm 119:6

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If our ways were steadfast, we would not experience shame. But our ways aren’t steadfast, thus, shame. And that’s why Jesus came. To obey the law for us. Now we can stare at the commands of God and not be put to shame. Our older brother is not ashamed of us (Hebrews 2:11).

What is shame? Ed Welch says:

“Shame is that all-too-human experience of worthlessness, failure and not belonging. It can come from what we have done or from what others have done to us. Once you notice it, you see it everywhere. For example, do you have a hard time believing that the Lord could love you? You will find shame there. Release from shame cannot be earned. It comes by being connected to Someone of infinite worth. It comes from marrying the right Person:

‘Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name..’ (Isaiah 54:4-5).

Sin links you to the wrong person; faith links you to the right One.”

So when that old Dragon spews his lies and accusations, and you feel on the onslaught of shame, stare at the person and work of Christ for you. Rehearse the Gospel. And remember that Jesus can’t remember your sins.

If Only! | Psalm 119:5

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‪“If only!” The cry of the disciple’s heart. But we rest in His faithfulness.‬

‪Shortly before he died, Dr. J. Gresham Machen sent a final telegram to his friend, John Murray. The words of the telegram: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

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Muchness | Psalm 119:4

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Andre the Giant’s hand is the perfect picture for the Hebrew word “meʾōḏ” which means “strength, power, muchness.”

“You, you have commanded your precepts to be kept with muchness.” Psalm 119:4

It’s the same word used in this famous verse: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your muchness.” Deuteronomy 6:5

 

Dig Dug Discipleship | Psalm 119:3

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Psalm 119:3 “Happy are those…who also do no wrong but walk in His ways.” Well, if you’re like me, I did my fair share of “wrong” yesterday. In fact, I got pretty irritated with my kids last night before bed. So much for all this Psalm 119 meditation!

But I rest today in this phrase: “but *walk* in His ways.” Tim Keller says, “To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.” I’m thankful that I’m walking my way home to Narnia. It’s slow, but steady, Spirit-empowered movement. I can put one foot in front of the other today, even if I trip like I did last night. I’m forgiven. His mercies are new even this morning. And that’s gonna be enough truth for my stumbling heart today.

Happy Seekers | Psalm 119:2 (Part 2)

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Psalm 119:2 PART TWO. “Happy are those…who *seek* Him with all their heart.” The Hebrew word for “seek” (darash) means to “diligently inquire, investigate” something.

This is the word that is used when David sent men to gather all the info about Bathsheba: “And David sent and inquired (darash) about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’” (2 Samuel 11:3)

David diligently sought info about Bathsheba before he raped her and murdered her husband. Yes, David raped her. The Hebrew off-line structure of the narrative makes this very clear. Bathsheba did nothing wrong. The Hebrew disjunctive clause “she was purifying herself” breaks the flow of the normal narrative structure to get our attention that she was obeying Levitical laws.

The verb “to send” is used 7x of David. Clearly, he abuses power. A disjunctive clause is used in the Hebrew to describe Bathsheba obeying Levitical law and cleansing herself. This “offline” clause breaks the normal flow of Hebrew and highlights her purity. David raped her.

Interestingly, the Lord “sends” Nathan the prophet to David to confront him: “And the LORD sent Nathan to David.” (2 Samuel 12:1) After all of David’s “sending,” Yahweh “sent” Nathan. But, back to Psalm 119…

Psalm 119:2 reminds us that we will be happy (asher) when we diligently seek after God with all our hearts. Obviously, we don’t do this well either. That’s why Jesus came. But let’s investigate and seek after Him today! Why? What awaits us when we do? Joy. Happiness. More of God’s heart for our heart.

The Keeper | Psalm 119:2 (Part One)

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Psalm 119:2 PART ONE. “Happy are those who *keep* His testimonies..” The Hebrew word for “keep” is “natsar” and means to “guard with fidelity” or keep covenant. It’s used of the Lord in Exodus 34:7 (“keeping steadfast love for thousands”).

Interestingly, it may be where the word “Nazareth” comes from. Throughout the Gospels and Acts, Jesus is repeatedly referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth.”

In fact, Jesus referred to Himself this way in Acts 22:8 when Paul recounts what Jesus said to him when He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus: “And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’” (Acts 22:8)

Nazareth was a backwoods, podunk town that had a population of 480-500 people at most. Jesus came from a really small town (I think that’s really cool!)

So, Psalm 119:2 tells us that we will be happy when we diligently obey and keep God’s word. Obviously, we don’t do that very well! That’s why “Jesus of Nazareth” came to earth. To *keep* the law on our behalf. Those who trust in Him will find joy that He has met the demands of God’s holy law on our behalf.

Jesus is the “Keeper,” the “Nazarene,” who fulfilled Psalm 119:2 for us. In fact, Matthew tells us that the Old Testament prophets foretold that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, or “Keeper.”

“And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:23

Psalm 119 | 1 verse a Day, 2x per Year

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In Matthew Henry’s account of the life and death of his father, Philip Henry, he says:

“Once, pressing the study of the Scriptures, he advised us to take a verse of Psalm 119 every morning to meditate upon, and so go over the Psalm twice in the year; and that, saith he, will bring you to be in love with all the rest of the Scriptures.”

I’m gonna try to work through one verse a day of Psalm 119 for the next year and cover it twice. I found it delightful to keep coming back to verse 1 today. I translated the Hebrew and read it in many different translations. Like John Calvin said, we imagine we will be happy if we can get far away from God, but we can’t. “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Torah of Yahweh.”

“Pssst! Here Are Your Idols!” – Coronavirus

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We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:19–21

John ends this epistle with a last-minute command: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” It follows a Gospel-rich paragraph describing how, in contrast to the world, we know God and are in union with His Son Jesus. Being in Christ fuels our obedience and gives us the power to keep ourselves from idols. And since John tells us to keep ourselves from idols, that means we have idols. Our heart is full of them and one way we know that is because over the past few months, the Coronavirus has been whispering at us, “Pssst! Here are your idols!”

I recently read something by Nancy Guthrie about how the Coronavirus is exposing our idols. She says:

Perhaps one of the gifts wrapped in the unwanted package labeled coronavirus is that it is exposing the things we may have allowed to compete with Christ as the true source of happiness, security, and meaning in our lives. Idols are not necessarily bad things. They are usually good things that have become ultimate things. An idol is anything apart from Christ about which we would say, “I must have this to be happy.”

Having our idols exposed is never comfortable or convenient. None of us relishes naming and forsaking things we love. We can’t imagine life without them. But if we truly desire to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might, we’ve got to destroy the idols that are keeping us from it. I suppose the question for some of us is: As God has used the impact of the coronavirus to expose idols in my life, am I interested and willing to forsake them, destroy them? Or am I really just waiting until I can prop them back up, put them back into the place they were before, so life can get back to “normal”?

Perhaps “getting back to normal” is not at all what God has in mind for us. Perhaps God has in mind a new normal, a new day-by-day way of walking through this life in which He has no rival for our affections, our devotion, and our joy. (You can read more here: https://byfaithonline.com/our-faith-is-being-tested-and-is-on-display/

Why not take some time and meditate on the wonderful truth that you know God and that you are “in Him.” Then do something wild and crazy and pray a bold prayer like this:

“Holy Spirit, show me the idols of my heart that are competing with Jesus as the true source of happiness, security, and meaning in my life.”

Praying with you,

Pastor Benji

Grumbling-19

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And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Numbers 14:2

I’ve been reading in the book of Numbers and I was struck recently by the power of grumbling. It’s like a “spiritual Coronavirus” spread through the nation of Israel: Grumbling-19. After grumbling and having the Lord’s anger sweep through the camp in the form of a plague, the nation of Israel continued to grumble against Moses and Aaron.

Iain Duguid has some sobering words in his commentary on these chapters:

“…grumbling is a contagious sickness that spreads from one person to the next… grumbling is a chronic sickness: it is habit-forming and addictive…Grumbling has enormous capacity to capture us in its power…Why is God so bothered by grumbling? It seems on the face of it to be a victimless crime: when we grumble, it seems that no one is robbed or hurt. So why is grumbling a sin worthy of death? The answer is because grumbling robs and hurts God. Grumbling assaults God’s glory. John Piper has rightly argued that God is most glorified when his people are most satisfied in him. If that is true, though, what happens when his people are most dissatisfied with him? He is robbed of his greatest glory. When God’s people grumble, they miss out on their chief end in life: as long as they are grumbling, they are neither glorifying God nor enjoying him. In addition, grumbling believers give non-Christians little reason to want to join them. When we grumble against the order that God has set in place, we are robbing God of the praise and glory that is his due, holding our hearts closed against him, and distracting others from seeing his greatness. That is why grumbling is such a serious sin… Grumbling and rebellion can only be overcome as we contemplate the cross.”

The past few months have presented us with many opportunities to grumble, right? I know I’ve grumbled. Where have you been grumbling in your life? Why not sit down and read Numbers ch. 11-16 and humbly ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you have been grumbling? And then look to the cross. And repent. And stop the spread of this contagious sickness. Make sure you aren’t spreading this habit-forming and addictive sin in your home or this church.

Here’s a “to-do” list for you: 1. Read Numbers 11-16. 2. Ask the Spirit for help. 3. Contemplate the cross. 4. Repent. 5. And then glorify and enjoy God- it’s what you were made for.

Repenting with you,

– Pastor Benji

The Christian Life in 6 Words

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Did you know that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, it happened at night? I know most children’s Bibles depict it happening during the day, but it actually happened at night. After the Israelites crossed over, Pharaoh’s army pursued them and then Yahweh threw them into a panic. This happened during the morning watch, which was between 2 A.M. and 6 A.M.

Exodus 14:19–25

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”

As the Israelites were crossing over, the fire by night was between them and Pharaoh’s army. So the only light source was behind them. The way forward was dark. Pitch black. They had to trust Yahweh that the ground was dry. They had to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). And so do we. God often calls us to do things for Him and we can’t see what lies ahead, but we take steps of faith, just like Moses and Co. did.

Ray Ortlund says-

Here is the Christian life in just six words: “Not knowing where” (Hebrews 11: 8), “I know whom” (2 Timothy 1: 12). Abraham didn’t know where God was leading him, but he didn’t need to know where. Like Paul, he knew whom he had believed. And so it is with us. We don’t know where, but we know whom, and that’s enough. If you always have to know where and what and when and how and so forth, all in advance, before you obey God, then you are not living by faith in God. Living by faith in God accepts ambiguity without getting nervous, because God is the one in charge. “Not knowing where, I know whom” — that’s Christianity. (Isaiah: God Saves Sinners)

Let’s learn to accept ambiguity without getting nervous. After all, if Jesus is anything, He’s trustworthy! Especially when He tells you to cross a sea when it’s pitch black at night.

– Pastor Benji

The Bible’s Bold Print

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Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

 

Psalm 136 repeats this refrain 26x: for his steadfast love endures forever. Why the repetition? Why does the Bible repeat certain phrases over and over again? One of my Hebrew professors in seminary said, “Repetition is the hallmark of Hebrew poetry and rhetoric.” The Hebrew authors of the Old Testament intentionally repeated words and phrases. Repetition is just one of the ways that the Hebrew language makes its point and puts truth in your face. And that’s a good thing because one reason the Bible repeats itself is because we are so forgetful!

 

Another reason why the Bible repeats itself, is given by Ralph Davis:

 

“Repetition is the way the Bible writers indicate bold print or upper-case letters or exclamation marks.”

 

So the next time you come across the Bible repeating itself, think of it this way:

 

Psalm 136:1–3

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!!!!!!!!!!

Give thanks to the God of gods, FOR HIS STEADFAST LOVE ENDURES FOREVER .

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever…

 

What other phrases does the Bible repeat? Here are a few more to get you thinking:

 

Praise the LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

I WILL BE YOUR GOD AND YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE.

 

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

All of these repeated phrases are just God opening His heart to us! Doesn’t that make you want to read your Bible?

 

– Benji

 

Making the Prophets Hot News

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For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

 

Do you need some endurance in your life? How about some encouragement? Could you use some hope? Then why not turn to one of the Old Testament prophets for these? Paul told the Romans that all of the Old Testament was written for our instruction, that we might be able to endure and be encouraged and have hope. And you can get all of that even out of the prophets.

 

I was reminded this week of something Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer said:

 

“…if we do not find the inspired words of the prophets gripping, the fault must surely be ours.

 

So why are the prophets not hot news to us? Why do we find them difficult and (God forgive us) dull? The answer is ignorance and lack of effort. Since the books of the prophets are as much God’s inspired Word as, say, the Epistles, they deserve the same repeated, unhurried, thoughtful reading, which, in all parts of the Bible, allows the Word of God to minister its meaning, with increasing clarity, to our minds and so to our hearts and lives.

 

Where to get started? Use a Bible that divides the text into manageable paragraphs; read slowly; ask (and write out the answers) what is the prophet saying? And why is he saying it? These two questions will prove more helpful than merely asking when they wrote. The Bible will always become clearer to the persevering reader; the Lord blesses those who ponder His Word.”

 

If you haven’t spent any time recently studying the prophets, let me encourage you to do so. Pick one and dive in. Get a study Bible (I’d recommend the ESV Study Bible). Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and give you a renewed hunger for His word. Ask questions (and answer them!).

 

And don’t forget that the Bible will always become clearer to the persevering reader; the Lord blesses those who ponder His Word. So, persevere, ponder, and may the prophets become “hot news” to you once again!

– Benji

Jesus Loves Me and He Loves You Too

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And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15

 

In one of the devotionals that I read in the morning, I came across a phrase that stopped me in my tracks: God takes Hell seriously. I, of course, know this is true, but seeing it in writing that day gave me reason to pause. And I did just that. And I began to think of friends and loved ones who do not know Jesus. And I was reminded again that if the Holy Spirit doesn’t open their blind eyes (2 Corinthians 4:3-4), then they have no hope. So I determined to renew and rekindle my prayers for their salvation.

 

Here’s what Jack Miller said in the devo that I read:

 

God takes Hell seriously… Instead of deciding whether or not God will save someone, start by praying that the Holy Spirit will make your heart tender like Jesus. Are you tender toward people? Do you touch them with love? Are you gripped by what Christ can do for them? Pray, asking for living water for yourself, but then don’t just sit there. Make a list of five people you think are never going to get saved, and then start praying that the Father will seek them and make them true worshipers (John 4: 23). As you pray, the Spirit will open doors of sharing that will be remarkably simple—maybe as simple as “Jesus loves me and he loves you too.” (Saving Grace: Daily Devotions from Jack Miller)

 

Let’s renew our focus on the lost today. Here’s what you can do to get started:

 

  1. Pray that the Holy Spirit will make your heart tender.

 

  1. Make a list of 5 people that you know need to come home to Jesus and begin praying for them. (Why not pray right now for them?)

 

  1. When God opens doors for you, just simply tell them, “Jesus loves me and he loves you too.” You never know how that sentence can change their eternity!

 

Jesus loves me and He loves you too. Let’s go tell our friends, loved ones, and our city this good news!

 

– Pastor Benji

Tell Jesus What You Lack

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On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” John 2:1–3

 

We can learn a lot about prayer from the mother of Jesus. Mary simply said to her son, “They have no wine.” That’s one of the best prayers in the Bible! Did you know that? That’s actually one of the very best prayers in the entire Bible! That’s what the late Norwegian Lutheran Ole Hallesby says in his book on prayer, whichI highly recommend. He says this-

 

In the next place, notice what she says to Jesus. Just these few, simple words, “They have no wine.” Note here what prayer is. To pray to Jesus is to tell Jesus what we lack. Intercession is to tell Jesus what we see that others lack… I think we can all see how different our prayer life would be if we would only learn this aspect of the holy art of prayer, with which the mother of Jesus was familiar.

 

To most of us prayer is burdensome because we have not learned that prayer consists in telling Jesus what we or others lack. We do not think that that is enough. Instinctively we feel that to pray cannot be so easy as all that. For that reason we rise from prayer many times with heavy hearts… All this is changed when we, like the mother of Jesus, learn to know Him so well that we feel safe when we have left our difficulties with Him. (Prayer, p. 44-46)

 

What’s troubling you today? Just tell Jesus. Tell Him what you lack. Tell Him what you need. What are you waiting for? Why not try it right now? Go ahead:

 

“Jesus, I lack                                        . Please help.”

 

See? Prayer is not as difficult as we may think. Just tell Jesus what you need. Cast your burdens on Him and then feel the safety of having left your difficulties with Him.

 

Praying that you learn to know Him this well,

 

– Benji

Peeps!

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Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:1–4

Most people that I know either love or hate Peeps, those brightly colored marshmallow birds that are popular (and everywhere!) around Easter. Maybe you’ve seen them in the grocery store (and maybe you’ve noticed that they keep coming up with new flavors of Peeps). Well, the next time you despise or enjoy those marshmallow birdies, let them remind you about how good and great Jesus is. That’s what David is doing in Psalm 61.

Did you notice the progression that David records in this psalm. He starts by asking the Lord to lead him to a high rock where he can be safe from his enemies. I like the way the NET Bible translates verse 2: “Lead me up to an inaccessible rocky summit!” So David makes his way in this psalm from the inaccessible rocky summit to a tower to a tent and finally under the shelter of God’s wings.

David, it seems, is moving from the safest place to a very fragile place; from the high inaccessible rocky summit to the “safety” under a pair of wings. The world, of course, would laugh at finding safety under a pair of “wings.” But the safest place is not a high rocky peak that your enemies cannot get to. The safest place is under God’s sheltering, protective wings.

Because of Jesus, God welcomes us into His personal care, like chicks under the wings of a mother bird. Now, notice the contrast: in God’s presence we have no right to come on our own merit into His tent, into His presence, but as “chicks” we have a “birth-right” to be under our mother’s wings. We have no right and no righteousness of our own to gain access into God’s presence. But when we trust in Jesus, when we are adopted into God’s family, we have every right to be there. We now have a “birth-right” to be under God’s wings. It’s where we belong and where we are most safe.

Alec Motyer is very helpful here. He says, “Loveliest of all, in our tinyness and insignificance, try being a day old chick and run to the sheltering wings.” We are tiny. We are weak. We are like day-old chicks. We’re Peeps.

That bothers us because, if we’re honest, we are allergic to weakness. But weakness is the channel that allows you and I access to God’s grace and peace. The Gospel uses your weakness as the door to God’s grace. Being helpless is what connects you to Jesus. Weakness opens the door to see Jesus. Weakness is what connects you to Jesus. Neediness is what qualifies us. The thing that we hate- weakness, helplessness- is what gets us in to Jesus!

That’s the sweet spot in life and ministry (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Realizing just how weak, needy, and dependent you are. It seems like a scary place to be, but it is reality. It’s where we are, whether we admit it or not. That’s who we are: day old chicks scampering about and running to the wings that provide us shelter. We’re just little chicks, little Peeps.

So when you see those brightly colored marshmallow Peeps this year, be reminded that they are a picture of you! Weak, but safe.

– Benji

The Angel of the Lord in a Mobile Home

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Psalm 34:7

 

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The context of Psalm 34, according to the prescript, is this: Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. But David never directly mentions this event in Psalm 34!

 

So David apparently wrote this psalm sometime after the events that occurred in 1 Samuel 21. Do you remember the story? David had no weapons and was given Goliath’s sword (which was apparently in storage). And David shows up at Gath, home of King Achish, with a skeleton crew of men and with Goliath’s sword in hand, but the people there mock him. This of course throws David into a panic and he’s now scared. So what does he do? He acts like he’s crazy! David begins to act like he’s lost his marbles and he begins drooling all over his beard and he starts to spray paint graffiti all over the doors of Achish’s home. Because of this, his life is spared and he flees to a cave. When others hear that David is camping at the cave of Adullam, 400 men show up! So he goes from a rag-tag group of misfits to 400+ men.

 

Alec Motyer suggests that as David recounts this “crazy man” story to these 400 men, it suddenly dawns on him that there is more to the story. David may have acted crazy and survived, but underneath it all, it was Yahweh who was with David and who delivered him. So Psalm 34 is the song that David probably slipped away and wrote after telling his “crazy man” story to his friends in the cave. And it’s in Psalm 34 that David highlights how Yahweh delivers His people. It’s Yahweh who lives, or encamps, among His people (“encamps” is emphatic in the Hebrew).

 

Alec Motyer says, “…and the LORD in effect said: If you are camping, I want to camp too!.. Look at Psalm 34:7, the Angel of the LORD in a mobile home so that he is always free to move with his people. The homeliness of Yahweh taking an earthly address, and the intimacy of His actually coming to live among His people, must never degenerate into casualness… The LORD automatically identifies with those overwhelmed by life’s sorrows. He’s close… a ‘next-of-kin’ relationship, not just being near at hand but actively making our woes His own.”

 

Psalm 34 is all about how God can’t get close enough to His people! He is near: The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

 

The Hebrew word for near is used in the book of Ruth to describe Boaz (Ruth 2:20; 3:12) who is the “next-of-kin,” the one whose right it is to take on himself all the needs of his troubled relative. That means that Jesus is our “next-of-kin” who takes all of our troubles as His own. Think about that! Whatever is troubling you today, Jesus is “near” and He takes that on Himself. Your need becomes His need. He is actively making your woes His woes. His mobile home is parked in your driveway.

 

That ought to be enough truth to get you through what you’re going through today.

 

– Benji

I Love You, Billy

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So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men… Philippians 2:29

 

I love Billy Graham. He is one reason why I am a pastor. He’s been a part of my upbringing since I was a young boy. My dad became a Christian after watching a Billy Graham Crusade and our home changed after that. I remember the following Sunday very well because my dad barged into our room and said, “Get up, boys. We’re going to church!” And we did. From that day on.

 

My dad began buying Billy’s books and we were always receiving mail from his ministry. We had hundreds of these pamphlets that I would read and re-read. And, of course, we received our Decision magazine every month and they began piling up on the side of our couch. I think I read every edition of Decision in the 80’s.

 

I can still hear Billy’s North Carolina accent saying, “The Bible says…” He said that all the time! “The Bible says…” “The Bible says…” As I watched numerous crusades growing up, I was learning the importance of God’s word. It has authority. The man with the Southern accent drilled that into me. Here’s what Billy said about God’s word-

 

“The Bible was written by 40 writers, over a period of 1,600 years, in 66 books. And the great theme from one end of the Bible to the other is redemption—God’s love for the human race and God redeeming man and bringing man back to Himself after man had rebelled against God. That’s what the Bible is all about.”

 

He’s right. The Bible’s great theme from one end to another is God’s overwhelming love for sinners. Redemption. That is what the Bible is all about. And Billy preached the same thing over and over and over again. He said-

 

“I’m not a great preacher, and I don’t claim to be a great preacher . . . I’m an ordinary preacher, just communicating the Gospel in the best way I know how… During all my years as an evangelist, my message has always been the Gospel of Christ.”

 

Terry Taylor of the 80’s Christian band The Swirling Eddies wrote a song about him, simply titled “Billy Graham.” Taylor wrote the song to honor Billy, who stood in stark contrast to the televangelist scandals that rocked the church in the 1980’s. Taylor and Gene Eugene sing-

 

I don’t know about those other guys


There’s something in the back of their eyes


But Billy, you’re the man who don’t use slight of hand


Ain’t wearing no disguise


I love you, Billy

I love the simple things you say


And you never seem to get in the way


No one is quite like you


Compassionate and true


“Just as I am,” I say 
I love you, Billy

 

Terry Taylor said this about him-

 

 “I always felt that Billy was the real deal. At heart he’s a simple country preacher who has always been willing to admit he’s made some mistakes and doesn’t have all the theological answers. I have to go elsewhere for more weighty stuff, but Graham is The Man when it comes to a powerful, no-frills presentation of the simple gospel message.”

 

You don’t have to have all the theological answers. Just get out of the way and present a no-frills simple Gospel message and Jesus will draw sinners to Himself. I learned that from a country preacher with a Southern accent.

 

I love you, Billy.

 

– Pastor Benji

Gospel Fluency Handbook

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I’ve been to Ghana, West Africa four times on mission trips and I still don’t know any of the languages. I remember a few phrases like “How are you?” and I know how to answer that question in the Twi language with, “By God’s grace, I am well.” But that’s about it. I am nowhere near being fluent in the Twi language after 4 trips. Can you believe that? What a loser! It’s silly to think that I could become fluent in any language after 4 trips.

I like to think that I’m fluent in the English language, but having teenagers in my house proves that I’m not. The English language is always changing and adding new phrases that it’s hard to keep up. And the teens in my house like to remind me that I’m out of touch with what’s happening in the world.

Being fluent in the Twi language would go a long way in helping me if I was in Ghana. And being fluent with current slang words might help me better communicate with my kids, like if we’re listening to a Lecrae song and I reply with, “That beat tho!”

But before I better my understanding of West African languages or master every word on Urban Dictionary, I need to be more fluent in the Gospel. And Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly have written a few resources that have helped me and I believe will help all Christians become more fluent in the Gospel.

Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life

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Gospel Fluency Handbook: A Practical Guide to Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life

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While the Gospel Fluency Handbook was written to accompany the Gospel Fluency book, it can be used without the book as content from the book is summarized in the handbook. Here are a few quotes from Gospel Fluency to whet your appetite:

We need the gospel and we need to become gospel-fluent people. We need to know how to believe and speak the truths of the gospel— the good news of God— in and into the everyday stuff of life. In other words, we need to know how to address the struggles of life and the everyday activities we engage in with what is true of Jesus: the truths of what he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, and, as a result, what is true of us as we put our faith in him. The gospel has the power to affect everything in our lives. (p. 23)

Most believers have become gospel-snippet people, who speak gospel catchphrases. They’re speaking gospelish, but not the actual gospel in a way people can hear and believe. (p. 39)

People need heart change— not just once, but over and over again, because their love grows cold. People need to be deeply affected by the incredible news of Jesus on a daily basis. What affects you greatly creates in you great affections. And those affections lead you to express verbally and physically what you love most, because you talk about what you love. Furthermore, you love what you talk about. And we all talk about what most affects us— what most powerfully works to create change in our lives. (p. 94)

We can all slip in and out of believing the good news of the Gospel. And we all have areas in our lives where we need the Gospel. On one of his podcasts, Paul Zahl said this about the late pastor and theologian J.C. Ryle.-

“Yet like many spiritual people, there were still ‘unevangelized dark continents’ inside him.” (PZ Podcast, Episode 108: J.C. Ryle Considered)

You see, no matter how much you have grown as a Christian, no matter how long you have been a Christian, there are still “unevangelized dark continents” inside every one of us. There are places in our hearts where the light of the Gospel is still needed. There are places in our hearts and minds where the radiance of the glory of God has not penetrated. There are places in our hearts and minds where the love of God has not penetrated. There are places, territories, dark continents that need to be blasted with the Gospel.

That’s where the Gospel Fluency book and handbook are helpful. The Gospel Fluency Handbook is an 8 week study designed for small groups, classes, etc that help identify those “unevangelized dark continents” in all of us. Each week’s chapter includes 3 weekly readings followed by reflection questions to be read between meetings. Then, when your group meets, there are group discussion questions and a group exercise.

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Jeff Vanderstelt said-

“I struggle with unbelief on a daily basis. I slip in and out of believing God’s word about me and trusting in his work for me. Jesus gave his life to make me a new creation. He died to forgive me of my sins and change my identity from sinner to saint, from failure to faithful, and from bad to good and even righteous and holy. However, I forget what He has said about me. I forget what He has done for me. Sometimes it isn’t forgetfulness. Sometimes it’s just plain unbelief. I know these things. I just don’t believe them. I am an unbeliever. Not every moment, of course, but I have those moments. So does everyone. I’m certain of it.”

And because we all slip in and out of believing God’s promises, then it would behoove us to read Gospel Fluency and go through the Gospel Fluency Handbook with some friends. Who doesn’t want to be more fluent in the Gospel? Who doesn’t want more peace? Who doesn’t want all that God has for us in His Son Jesus? It would be foolish for any Christian to spend their days and not be fluent in the good news that has saved them.

But what does it mean to “be fluent” in the Gospel? Here’s how the authors Jeff and Ben answer that question:

Jeff: When I think about fluency I think about unconscious competence. I am answering this question in English not consciously trying to think through a vocabulary list or stumbling over how to put together thoughts. I am fluent in English. To be fluent in the gospel is to know it so well it becomes like a mother tongue. I am able to filter all of life through the truths of the gospel and am readily able to speak those truths into any situation or struggle we are facing at any time.

Ben: As with any other use of the term “fluency,” gospel fluency is a growing ability to see all of life and consider the many situations in our day-to-day through the lens of the promises of God and the good news of Jesus. Just like learning a new language, most of us start with an unawareness of how the gospel can apply to the hard and mundane aspects of daily life and conversation; in this way, the gospel is “unnatural” to us. As we rehearse basic truths of the gospel, as we practice different disciplines and as we ask God to give us more and more knowledge of Himself, His promises and His truth, the hope is the gospel becomes more and more “natural” and automatic.

Are you wanting to become more fluent in the Gospel? Then I cannot recommend these resources enough. Heck, after going through the Gospel Fluency Handbook, you might look at your small group or Bible study class and say, “That book tho!”

Why? Because these resources will remind you of Jesus. And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book? When you finish the last chapter of a book, don’t you want to walk away believing what Jesus said, “It is finished”? You might even respond like the apostle Paul and say,

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17

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To learn more about these resources, please visit:

https://saturatetheworld.com/resource/gospel-fluency-handbook/

http://litfusegroup.com/books/gospel-fluency-handbook

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Follow the conversation on Twitter:

@litfuse

@saturateworld

@JeffVanderstelt

@connellyben

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

 

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A Small Book About A Big Problem: Meditations On Anger, Patience, and Peace

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There’s a line in one of my favorite songs (“Pitseleh”) by the late Elliott Smith that goes like this:

 

I’m not half what I wish I was

I’m so angry

I don’t think it’ll ever pass

And I was bad news for you just because


I never meant to hurt you

 

As I read Ed Welch’s new book A Small Book about a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace, I thought a lot about these lyrics. They are true of me. I’m not half the man that I wish I was because I still struggle with anger. I wish that I didn’t, but I do. And there are days when I get so angry that I don’t think it will ever pass (I have 6 kids, does that get me off the hook?). And because I still struggle with anger, I can be “bad news” for those closest to me, even though I never mean to hurt anyone with my words.

 

So I am going to assume that you struggle with anger too. Every human being does. As Ed says on page 1, “To be human is to get angry.” Some of us explode and the whole world sees it when we get angry. Just as Elliott Smith sings in another song (“Bottle Up and Explode!)-

 

Bottle up and explode over and over

Keep the troublemaker below

Put it away and check out for the day

In for a round of overexposure

 

Some of us try to bury our anger deep inside but we soon realize that anger is pretty good at resurrection. And when it finally gets released, we’re in for a round of overexposure as our hearts are revealed to all the people in our warpath.

 

And then some of us bury our anger so deep that we think it will never get out. But it does. Not with explosions. It seeps out in subtle ways, subtle comments. So the bottom line is that every human being struggles with anger, whether you’re good with a shovel or lighting fireworks. And as this little book points out, anger destroys. That alone should be reason for you to pick this book up. We may not mean to hurt others, but our anger does.

 

If anger has its way, it will lead to murder. Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen said something like this over 300 years ago:

 

Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens mens’ hearts, and brings them to ruin.

 

Every sin wants to go to its utmost, so if anger could have its way, it would grow up and become murder. What does anger want to be when it grows up? MURDER. And that means that there’s a murderer inside everyone one of us. This is exactly what Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins sings about in their song “Disarm”-

 

The killer in me is the killer in you

 

And that’s exactly what Jesus said about all of us in Matthew 5:21-22. Listen to how Ed describes it:

 

You see where Jesus is going. Jesus has just enlarged the boundary of murder so that it includes all kinds of anger… Jesus is putting casual name-calling within those same murderous boundaries… Welcome to the band of murderers. Why is Jesus so hard-hitting on this? Anger destroys. Jesus wants life for us all. And we can’t turn toward life until we see the murderer who lurks within. Try this identity: murderer. p.18-19

 

Ouch.

 

I’ll be honest with you. This book comes out swinging. Ed pulls no punches, in fact many times the words would leap off the page and punch me in the gut. The Biblical word for this is conviction. It’s the loving ministry of the Holy Spirit. But I trust Ed, as I’ve benefited from his books and articles through the years, so I let him get in a few shots knowing that he did not desire to hurt me with what he was saying. His goal is healing. And I need that.

 

In a way, this book does what it is supposed to do. It follows that wonderful pattern of law and then Gospel. Ed shows us our sinfulness and then he points us to our Savior. So if you struggle swallowing the bad news, hang in there ‘cause the good news is on its way and it goes down easy.

 

Here are a few quotes that really stuck with me:

 

A definition of anger includes this: anger specializes in indicting others but is unskilled at both self-indictment and love. p.11

 

Wisdom is anger’s opposite. p. 26

 

Anger is not something that comes upon us when an offence is committed. Anger is already in us. In its embryonic from we call it desire… anger is in us. It just takes the right occasion to bring it out… Anger comes from within, and the stuff is rancid. p.29

 

Anger lodges in us. It comes home, kicks off its shoes, plants itself in front of the TV, and expects to stay. It doesn’t even look at you when you tell it to leave. p. 35

 

…humility is not owed anything. p. 61

 

God’s kingdom is the world’s opposite. It runs on humility. p. 66

 

Asking forgiveness is anger’s opposite. p. 75

 

Psalms is the longest book in Scripture. Its basic message is: talk to the Lord. p. 84

 

Anger looks like Satan… and it summons him. p.87

 

Wow! Isn’t that last one good? I could add plenty more but I want to whet your appetite so you’ll go and pick this book up.

 

I highly recommend this book. These 50 short, daily devotions are as short as your fuse and they will help turn your eyes away from you and your little kingdom. And by the time you get to the end of the book, you’ll love Jesus more and hate sin more. Who doesn’t want that?

 

One thing that I truly love about this book is the way that Ed Welch writes. He uses clever turns of phrases that catch your attention and make you look at truth from a different angle. His own words are like “mini-Proverbs” and would easily fit into your status updates, tweets, etc. I love that about this book. Certain phrases and sentences made me put the book down and think about a concept for an extended period of time. To me, that makes for a great book. Good books make you stop and reflect. And Ed does not disappoint with A Small Book About A Big Problem.

 

But what I want more than anything in a good theological book is to see Jesus again and to love Him more. I want to put the book down knowing that He will never leave me nor forsake me, even though I still struggle with sin. This small book about a big problem does just that. It diagnoses the problem of anger but then points you to your Redeemer so you can have hope. Ed reminds us that anger does not have the last word over our lives. Jesus does. Mercy does.

 

Sometimes I don’t believe that mercy has the last word over my life. I’m a pastor and I still get angry and I think that my identity is wrapped up in my sin and failures. Some days I think the thesaurus should include my picture alongside these words:

 

lose one’s temper, become enraged, go into a rage, go berserk, flare up; INFORMAL go crazy, go bananas, hit the roof, go through the roof, go up the wall, see red, go off the deep end, fly off the handle, blow one’s top, blow a fuse/gasket, flip out, have a fit, foam at the mouth, explode, go ballistic, go postal, flip one’s wig, blow one’s stack, have a conniption.

 

Some days I feel like my picture belongs with those words. Maybe you do too? If you’re a disciple of Jesus and you feel like the previous words are your identity, let me comfort you now and let you know that this is the banner that hangs over your life:

 

Jesus can’t remember your sins.

 

Jesus can’t remember your sins (Hebrews 8:12). He can’t remember your anger. Because you are in union with Him, He can’t remember all those times when you blew your stack and flew off the handle and went bananas. That’s good news. So walk in that freedom today. And then walk or drive or fly to the nearest store and pick this book up. Or, you can order below.

 

To learn more about Ed or to purchase his book:

 

http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/a-small-book-about-a-big-problem/

 

http://litfusegroup.com/author/ewelch

 

Follow the conversation on Twitter:

 

@litfuse

 

@NewGrowthPress

 

@ccef

 

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

Think Again: Relief From The Burden of Introspection

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Honest confession: I can be morbidly introspective. My devotional times, my prayer times- pretty much any time, you will find me being morbidly introspective. I often rehearse the day and all of my shortcomings and how I failed. I obsess over words that I said or didn’t say, I obsess over what others think of me, I obsess over how things might have been different had I acted different. It’s really sad, actually. And I’m a pastor! But I’m sure none of you struggle with this, right?

 

Well, I have good news for you if you do. If your self-examination turns into a cross-examination and you always end up hearing a guilty verdict, then I’ve got some good news for you. Actually, Jared Mellinger does in his new book, Think Again: Relief From The Burden Of Introspection.

 

I was thrilled to see that this book was coming out and very happy to review it here on my blog because this is a real struggle of mine. And Jared does not disappoint. He helps people see how paralyzing it is to live a life focused on self. He paints a wonderful picture of what true Gospel-centered freedom looks like when we focus on Jesus.

 

So if you’re a person who overdoses on introspection, then this is the rehab you’ve been looking for. If you find yourself obsessing over your looks, how people perceive you, second-guessing yourself, and replaying conversations in your head (who doesn’t do this?), then this book is for you. And in the end, Jared simply reminds you of what you already know: you need to keep your eyes on Jesus. You know that, right? Of course you do. You’ve heard the oft-cited Robert Murray McCheyne wisdom: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ!” We’ve all heard that quote in sermons (heck, I’ve used it in my sermons!), we’ve re-tweeted it, we’ve liked it and hearted it and all that other social media stuff. But it’s a lot harder than it looks (pun intended). It’s a lot harder to “look at Jesus 10x for every gaze at your navel” than the preachers make it out to be- take it from this preacher.

 

So why get this book? Here’s why: Think Again tells you how to do it. It tells you how to keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s full of practical, Gospel-centered reminders that will help you quit obsessing over you. For instance, chapter 10 (“Self-forgetfulness”) alone is worth the price of the book. Jared gives hands-on experience in the art of losing yourself in many areas of life like worship, love, art, sports, preaching, and work.

 

But more than a book full of “how to’s” and practical tips, Think Again keeps reminding you about Jesus. And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book? Don’t you want to love Jesus more as you read the very last paragraph and close the book? Don’t you want to walk away from a book and think, “I just spent time with Jesus. And I love Him more now that I’m at the end notes than I did when I read the introduction”?

 

Well, Think Again does that. I cannot recommend it enough. Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite so you’ll go out and buy this thing and then fall more in love with Jesus:

 

The antidote to excessive introspection is not to completely forget myself, but to look more to the Lord Jesus Christ, which leads to thinking rightly- and less often- about myself. (p.12)

 

The irony of identity is that a clear view of yourself comes only as you learn to look away from yourself. (p. 18)

 

What we learn is that the gospel rescues us from self-hatred and self-esteem by destroying the idol of self and replacing it with Christ. (p.31)

 

Once self is made an idol, I will either view myself as awesome or as a failure. (p. 33)

 

Self-absorption is not always loud and self-promoting; it can also look shy and insecure. It does not always come in the form of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. It also comes in the form of thinking of ourselves more often than we ought. (p.48)

 

One more teaser and then you need to go get this book:

 

There is something appealing about a soul that delights in the Lord, serves others gladly, laughs at the days to come, and thinks far less often about how everything relates to self. This is who God made us to be. (p.49)

 

So what are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy or two of Think Again and help Jared by groceries for his family. Sorry, I had to write that last sentence because he has 6 kids like I do, so I feel his pain. Seriously, get this book and you’ll love Jesus more by the time you get to the endnotes. And then you can go serve others gladly, and laugh, and think far less about you. After all, this is how God made you to be. Let Think Again nudge you in that direction again.

 

To learn more about Jared or to purchase his book:

http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/think-again-by-jared-mellinger/

http://litfusegroup.com/author/JMellinger

Follow the conversation on Twitter:

@litfuse

@NewGrowthPress

@JMellinger

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

God’s Heart Is Like An Oven

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How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. Hosea 11:8

I think these are some of the most beautiful words in Scripture. God’s people have continually turned away from the Lord (Hosea 11:7), and yet His heart moves toward them in compassion. Hosea tells us that Yahweh leads His people with cords of kindness:

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

Puritan Walter Marshall said, “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).” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, p. 236)

And that is exactly what is happening here. Yahweh is revealing His heart for His rebellious children so as to allure them to love Him. His heart “recoils” within in Him when His people walk away from Him. This Hebrew word (hapak) is the same word that was used to describe Yahweh “overthrowing” Sodom and Gomorrah. Interestingly, Hosea mentions 2 suburbs of Sodom and Gomorrah here: Admah and Zeboiim. I assume he does this to startle God’s people. Perhaps they thought, “Admah and Zeboiim. Where’s that again? Oh, yeah. They were suburbs of Sodom and Gomorrah, which Yahweh overthrew.” 

When we run away from Jesus, His heart is overthrown with compassion and He moves out in tenderness toward us. Yes, He disciplines us (Hebrews 12:5-11), but His knee-jerk reaction is one of kindness. After all, what leads us to repentance? The law? The whips, terrors, and threats of the law? No! His kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

And we see His kindness here in Hosea 11 because when we run away after other lovers, Yahweh’s compassion grows warm and tender. The Hebrew word for “warm” (kamar) is used of an oven heating up (Lamentation 5:10) and also when Joseph saw his brother Benjamin for the first time after all those years (Genesis 43:30). God’s anger does not flare up when we sin, rather His compassion does! His heart heats up like an oven, not with anger, but with compassion! This is why grace is amazing.

And that amazing grace should make you want to live for Him and His glory. That’s what His kindness is designed to do. As Charles Spurgeon said-

“While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; but when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

May the warm and tender heart of Jesus warm your heart for Him today.

– Benji

George Muller: Happy in the Lord

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You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7

I have found the following words by George Muller to be very helpful to me over the years. May they encourage you to get your soul happy in the Lord! And don’t let his looks and awesome fauxhawk fool you.

It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth, the benefit of which I have not lost for fourteen years. The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished…

 Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as a habitual thing, to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed…

 The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead to it…

 By breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.

Crippled

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Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2

I recently wrapped up a study in Isaiah that refreshed my soul. In particular, the verses above in the last chapter of Isaiah have brought me much comfort. What’s so startling about this passage is the contrast between who God is in all of His power and yet He is concerned with the broken. Heaven is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool, so could we ever build a house that would be fitting? Of course not. But even if we could, God is not interested in living in tents, houses, or temples. God is not interested in houses, rather, He’s interested in hearts- our hearts.

Isaiah is telling us that this all-powerful King doesn’t look to the mighty. He doesn’t look to the powerful. He doesn’t look to the wise. He looks to the humble, the broken. In fact, the phrase “contrite in spirit” is literally “crippled” (nekeh) in the Hebrew language. It’s the same word that is used to describe Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled boy (2 Samuel 4:4; 9:3). This word comes from the root word, nakah, which means, “to strike” and it often occurs in the context of fighting and war. So if a person is “crippled in spirit” it means that they have been wounded, and they need help, and they cannot make it on their own.

So what Isaiah is doing is giving us a picture of how merciful and gracious Jesus is toward sinners. He looks to the humble, the one crippled in spirit, the one who cannot make it on their own, the one who trembles at His word. That means that if you have been beat up by life, if you’re broken, if you’re falling apart at the seams, Jesus sees you. He sees and knows your pain. He comes to you. He comes to heal, to carry, to strengthen.

What good news for those beat up by the storms of life! Jesus sees and knows and cares. Humble yourself today. Tremble at His word. And take comfort that Jesus sees everything and He’s working through it all to bring you good.

Benji

Im + Anu + El = With Us God

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

“Immanuel, God with us.” This is what Isaiah and the God-fearing people in his day were clinging to. They were clinging to the promise that God would be with them. As the nation of Assyria trampled on Judah and all seemed hopeless, they had a promise that they could hold onto: God is with us! Immanuel!

And isn’t that the way it always is for God’s people? We always cling to God’s promises. Certainly Joseph and Mary needed this assurance of Immanuel, because in Matthew 2 King Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary would need the promise of Immanuel, God with us, in chapter 2 because the most powerful person in the entire world at that time, King Herod, would put a bounty out on their baby’s head! So they needed this promise of Immanuel! And isn’t that the way it always is for God’s people all the time? “God with us” is all that holds us up when we feel like life is going to swallow us up!

One name in the Hebrew language, Immanuel, translated with 3 simple words into English, God with us, can give you all the hope you need this Christmas- Immanuel, God with us. In the darkest times of your life- Immanuel, God is with you. In those moments when you feel like life is falling apart- Immanuel, God is with you. When you are so overwhelmed with life and you think that you just can’t go on- Immanuel, God is with you. When you find yourself in situations that are just so overwhelming and you don’t even know what to do, where to begin, what to say, how to respond, and you just feel hopeless, and maybe even feel like dying- Immanuel, God is with you. When you are at the end of your rope- Immanuel, Jesus, God is with you.

And what I love about the name Immanuel is that it is made up of 3 parts in the Hebrew language. Immanuel is composed of the preposition “with” (im) and affixed to the preposition is the 1st common plural pronominal suffix (anu). And then the name “El”- which means God– gets attached to the end.

Preposition: Im = with

1st common plural pronominal suffix: anu = us

The name: El = God

The Hebrew grammar may be confusing or boring, but it’s one of the most beautiful words in Hebrew! And it just might be what you need for Christmas this year! Maybe the thing that you need for Christmas is a Hebrew preposition and the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix! And when you take a Hebrew preposition and you attach the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix to it and then you attach to it God’s name, what you get is a Hebrew promise that God is with you!

Sometimes that’s all you have…. but it’s all you need. God is with you. Sometimes that’s all you have…. but it’s all you need. Immanuel. God with us. And it’s not just some theology. It’s not just a doctrine. And it’s not just a name that is composed of a Hebrew preposition and the Hebrew 1st common plural pronominal suffix attached to the name of God. It’s more than that. It’s a person! It’s Jesus! Jesus is Immanuel, God with us! That might be just enough to get you through whatever it is that you are going through today. Jesus is with you right now!

Sometimes all you can do is just keep saying over and over again, “God is with me. God is with me. God is with me. God is with me.” You might want to try that the next time you get stressed out or worried or scared to death. It’s true. Merry Christmas!

Like Father, Like Son- Pete Alwinson

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I did not sleep at all last night. Not a wink. One of our kids was sick so I spent my sleeping hours repeatedly cleaning up vomit and scrubbing the bathroom floor, the toilet, the sink, etc with disinfectant and bleach. I suppose that’s what a good parent does. It’s what a good dad does. They sacrifice for their children. And that’s exactly what Pete Alwinson says in his new book Like Father, Like Son: How Knowing God as Father Changes Men

 

The adventure of sacrificial fathering begins right at birth when the welcoming of a totally dependent, fragile newborn rocks the new mom and dad’s world. Sleep deprivation, unfamiliar noises, and never-ending messy new jobs conspire with inexperience to keep parents off-balance. (p. 106)

 

That was my night last night: sleep deprivation, unfamiliar noises, and never-ending messy new jobs. But that’s what a father does. He sacrifices. He cares.

 

But please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to toot my horn here. I’m a sinner. I don’t think that I’m a “great dad.” I struggled to get up each time and help my son and then clean up all the mess. But I’m telling you this in order to show you that this is exactly what our heavenly Father does for us. We get sick with sin, we throw up everywhere, and He comes and cleans up the mess we have created with His grace. That’s what God is like. And that’s what Pete Alwinson’s new book is like. He keeps telling us what God the Father is like.

 

Now, a disclaimer must be noted here. I first heard of Pete about 6 or 7 years ago and I began listening to his sermons. Pete’s sermons are winsome, engaging, practical, and Gospel-centered. So when I began reading his new book, I had very high expectations. And he did not let me down. This book is typical Pete Alwinson (as much as you can know someone through their sermons!). And the last chapter, “The Grace-giving Father,” is typical Pete and worth the price of the entire book. And it will set you free! And isn’t that what you’re looking for in a good book?

 

Listen, I have grown tired of all the “manly father” books that give me a list of things to do. I’m tired of them because when I do the list, I get prideful. And when I don’t do the list? Depression. Sadness. Guilt. Shame. Like Father, Like Son is not one of those books. It’s a book that tells you the very simple secret to fatherhood: knowing God. That’s the key to being a godly, albeit sinful, father: knowing God the Father. That’s what this book is about. Pete describes the difference that knowing your heavenly Father makes:

 

Well, here’s the good news— you have a perfect heavenly Father! It makes all the difference in the world when you realize that God is your father, the most important father in your life. God the Father and God as Father is the truly irreplaceable Father. When we start relating to God as Father, it’s absolutely amazing how it transforms us and changes our lives for the better. That’s the bottom line thesis of this book. (p. 9)

 

As soon as I read that paragraph, I immediately thought of a something that A.W. Tozer said. So in the margin of my book, I wrote “Tozer.” Then a few pages later, Pete quoted Tozer’s very words: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

 

That’s why you need to read this book. That’s why you need to give this book to every man that you know- because what they think about God determines everything in their life. If they don’t know God the Father, they are missing out. It’s only as we know God the Father that we will ever be the men and fathers that He has created us to be. It’s when we find our identity in our relationship with our heavenly Father that we will begin to experience true freedom.

 

So what are you waiting for? It’s “Cyber Monday.” Go by this book! And get to know your heavenly Father- the One who sent His Son Jesus to live and die for us- the One who gave us His Spirit- the One who cleans you up after you stuff yourself with sin and make a mess of your life.

To learn more about Pete or to purchase his book:

http://stores.newgrowthpress.com/like-father-like-son-how-knowing-god-as-your-father-changes-men/

http://litfusegroup.com/author/palwinson

* I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for writing this review.

As a Breast Desires to Empty Itself…

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I’ve been on quite a few missions trips to West Africa and one thing that you cannot miss when you are there is the freedom that African women have to breastfeed in public. I remember once, after preaching in public to a large crowd, that a woman came forward and told me that she wanted to trust in Christ. As we were praying together, I heard her baby getting fussy, and I opened my eyes and she just pulled down her top and started nursing. That’s certainly something that I’ve never countered in the American church!

And it was after one of my trips to Africa in 1994 that I painted the painting above- “Mother’s Milk.” It was one of the main pieces at my senior art show in college, too. And it (and many other paintings of mine) were banned at the Christian college that I went to. I had to pull them down because they were too controversial. Life as an artist in the (Southern) church…

So I’ve painted a number of paintings through the years of women breastfeeding. It has been one of my motifs that I often return to. And it’s a motif that the Puritans picked up on as well. We tend to shy away from the imagery (probably because of our over-sexualized culture), but the Puritans knew that breastfeeding was beautiful a picture to show the love of God for sinners like us. Here’s how one of my favorite Puritan pastors, Richard Sibbes, describes the love of Jesus…

Doth he come empty? No; he comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven. Do but consider this. He comes not for his own ends; but to empty his goodness into our hearts. As a breast that desires to empty itself when it is full; so this fountain hath the fulness of a fountain, which strives to empty his goodness into our souls. He comes out of love to us. Let these considerations melt our hearts for our unkindness, that we suffer him to stand so long at the door knocking, as it is said here. Sibbes, R. (1862). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 67). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t come to us empty. He comes with grace. And He doesn’t come to us for something that He can get out of it. He’s not self-centered in His giving. He doesn’t come to us for His own ends- He comes to empty His goodness into our hearts! And just like a breast that is full and ready to empty itself of its milk, so too Jesus is ready to fill us with His goodness. He is an overflowing fountain, dare I say, an overflowing breast, that desires to fill His hungry children with His milk.

Think about that today. It will melt your heart.

– Benji

Walking Sermons

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

Puritan Richard Sibbes said, “Godly friends are walking sermons.” I think that’s what the preacher of Hebrews is getting at. We all need encouragement. We all need to be stirred up to love and good works. And that’s why godly friends can be walking sermons- because the reality is that we’re all sick in some way. We’re all selfish and struggle with many sins, so we need encouragement and stirring. The church is, after all, a hospital. Richard Sibbes said that too-

“The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls…The church of Christ is a common hospital, wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or other…”

The Holy Spirit is pleased to dwell in sinners like us because that’s all that there are! We are all smoky, offensive souls when compared the glory of God, but that doesn’t stop God from dwelling inside us individually and corporately. We are a common hospital where at any moment we are all in some measure sick of some spiritual disease. And that’s why meeting together for mutual encouragement is so important. We need to be pointed to Jesus all the time. He alone is the cure for our sin-sick souls.

So look around. There are hurting people sitting in front of you at church. And behind you. And next to you. And there are hurting people filling up their coffee cups before and after the service. So be intentional anytime we gather as a church. Look for someone to encourage. And don’t be surprised if someone stirs you up too. Let’s be a church that places not just a high value on preached sermons, but also on “walking sermons.”

– Benji

The Story Carries Us

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For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

What a wonderful promise we have here!

At the time that Paul was writing Romans there was no official New Testament canon, so Paul is talking about the Old Testament in this verse. He’s telling the Roman Christians that all that was written down in the Old Testament was written for our instruction, so that we would be able to endure, be encouraged, and have hope. That’s a wonderful Gospel promise! That’s a wonderful Gospel promise that’s found in a portion of God’s word that records thousands of failures by God’s people!

Imagine that: The stories of the failures of God’s people in the Old Testament are supposed to encourage us and help us to endure and give us hope! That seems a little strange to me. But then I remember that the story is not about Abraham or Moses or David. It’s not even about us. It’s about God. It’s His story. And Michael Williams explains that in his book Far As the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption

Were the patriarchs faithful to Yahweh? Often, no. But God was faithful, and that in the end is the story of Genesis. What Moses is teaching Israel in the book of beginnings is that the patriarchs are not the heroes of the story of Israel. Ultimately, the story is not about them. The patriarchs do not carry the story. Rather, the story carries them. The drama keeps coming back around to Yahweh, and to his faithfulness in spite of the faithlessness of his covenant partner. The divine purpose cannot be defeated by sin, even the sin of the covenant vassal. (p.131)

The story is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And His story carries us. We do not carry the story. The drama of our lives always comes back around to Jesus. And even our sins and failures cannot thwart His plan! Even the sins of God’s people cannot stop Jesus! That ought to be enough to encourage you to endure all of your failures and have hope.

Carried by His story,

Benji