July 31, 2020

Receiving with Hands Open

"For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD. As long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD." And he worshiped the LORD there.   
1 Samuel 1:27-28

Have you ever received a gift, and being so overjoyed with that gift, turned and given it away?


The Setting

That seems to be how the book of 1 Samuel, found in the Old Testament of the Bible, begins. We meet in these opening pages a woman named Hannah. She is the wife of a man named Elihu-but she isn't his only wife. She has what v6 refers to as a rival, her husband's other wife, Peninnah. And beyond being her rival, Peninnah is prodigiously gifted in what would have been the measure of a woman some 3100 years ago: she's very able to bear children. Hannah, on the other hand, is barren. 

This causes Hannah great distress, for although her husband loves her (v5), one imagines that love has a hard time holding up in the face of how fruitful his other sexual union has been. What is she to do?

She turns to the One who hears prayer. Verses 9-18 chronicle Hannah's prayer, and her following interaction with the Priest Eli. She asks the Lord to look on her affliction, to remember her, to not forget her, and to give her a son. She comes in a sense of deep desperation, and lays her bold request out before the Lord. 


A Longing Fulfilled

And he hears her. He not only hears in the sense that God hears everything, but he hears with an attention that v20 refers to as remembering, and her Heavenly Father grants Hannah her earthly desire. She is given a son. But here is where the story becomes a head-scratcher for the modern reader. Back in v11 Hannah had promised to give her son to the Lord, if the Lord were so gracious as to bless her with a son to give. And most people (at least today) would chalk that up to a rash statement made under stress, and not put too much stock in it. But Hannah follows through.

The rest of the chapter, verses 21-28, tell us of Hannah bringing her son Samuel to the Lord. She received God's blessing. But she received it with an open hand. Some of us like to open our hands for a gift and then clinch down once that gift is given to us, holding on for dear life. That gift might be children. Financial security. A job you love. A particular relationship, or perhaps some material item. The gift that we asked for becomes the thing we "need." 

Hannah seems to realize the folly of this. She desperately wanted a son. So much that she even promised to "lend" him to the Lord. And instead of backing out on that promise, saying, "but God, don't you understand?", she lets him go. The Lord gave, and she gave back. Not out of pride, but out of gratitude. Do I receive like that?

July 30, 2020

Revealed

 
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.  
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 21:1–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles. Emphasis added.
What is this story about? Fishing? The disciples going back to a way of life they knew before Christ? Peter not feeling confident enough to walk on water this time and swimming 100 yards instead?

I don't think so. Note those words I put in bold above. The emphasis in this story is Jesus revealing himself.

So here's the tool tip of the day: When you're reading your Bible and trying to understand a story, look to see if you can find those sort of framing words or concepts. Usually if you can get that big picture in place, the details will start to make more sense and point you in one direction, rather than pulling you off down various rabbit holes. 

July 29, 2020

Review: Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne


Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus (9Marks: Building Healthy Churches)Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus by Jeramie Rinne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brief, clear, insightful. Rinne lays out the Biblical role and responsibilities of elders, provides helpful tips, and encourages those men whom God has called to the role of shepherd to do precisely that: shepherd.

Useful for those who already are pastors/elders, and I look forward to using it as a training tool in equipping new elders.

View all my reviews

When Your Prayer Hits the Ceiling


Blank

Do you ever experience times of feeling spiritually blank? Like no matter how many times you go to church, no matter how many songs you sing, no matter how much money you give, nothing you do is going to make you feel close to God? I go through such experiences on a frighteningly frequent basis. 

What causes this sort of blank, bleak, hollow feeling? I think there are quite a few possibilities. It can be how the seasons affect our brains. I can feel blank any time of year, but I can pretty well count on hitting that point in either January or February. It can be derived from the circumstances around us leaving us overwhelmed. We just don't have the emotional energy to operate beyond survival mode. And these just begin the list, so many of which are circumstances genuinely beyond our control.


Deafness

But I want to focus our attention briefly on a passage that holds the mirror up to my life. Proverbs 28:9 says,
If one turns away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
 Have you ever contemplated this before? The reason you feel blank, or spiritually just not "with it," may well be because you're refusing to obey God's revealed word in Scripture. This is not the case in every circumstance. But if you are wondering why God seems distant, it makes sense to start by looking at your own life critically. Look, and ask this question: am I walking in consistent obedience to God's revealed will? Am I obeying what he tells me to do?

When we make a practice of ignoring God's word and walking in our own way, two things simultaneously take place. The first is that our conscience is dulled to the voice of God. We become less likely to obey him if we are not exposing ourselves to his word (through reading, sitting under the preached word with the gathered congregation, etc) and obeying his word. Perhaps even more dangerous is if we are listening to the word and still not obeying. In either case, the habit of disobedience becomes a pattern of life which becomes increasingly difficult to break.

The second thing that happens, though, is most terrifying of all. That verse above tells us that is we quit listening to God, he quits listening to us. If one turns away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. It might feel like your prayers hit the ceiling because they do hit the ceiling. If you have no interest in obeying him, why would God waste his time?


Ask Honestly

This shouldn't cause us to despair. The wrong way to read this would be to say, "every time I feel bad it's my fault." Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Many great Christians have fought what Spurgeon called "fainting fits," or times of depression. But when we do encounter those circumstances, we need more than anything else to cry out to God in prayer. And in those moments it is right to consider, is there anything hindering my relationship with him? Any unresolved conflict or disobedience to Christ that I need to repent of?

Our hope in God is dependent not upon our obedience, but Christ's. But our experience of joy in God is often connected to our obedience to him.

July 28, 2020

Forget the Odds

When Times Get Tough

Have you ever heard the old saying, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going"? There are a lot of tough times recorded in the Bible. Some of the most interesting occur in the historical books, which begin with 1 Samuel.

In the book of 1 Samuel, we read the story of Israel's transition from being a theocracy which acknowledged God as king, to being a monarchy with a human king sitting on a physical throne. Standing in the way of that transition, though, were the Philistines.

As one comes 1 Samuel 14, we find King Saul of Israel and his army waiting for battle. The Philistines outnumber the Israelites by an order of magnitude. And not only is the tiny army of Israel outnumbered, they are (to speak anachronistically) outgunned. The whole army of Israel has two swords: the one carried by King Saul, and the one carried by his son Jonathan. The rest of the men have axes, mattocks, plowshares, and sickles. 

Which brings us to verse 6 of chapter 14,
Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, "Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few."

Get Going

I love Jonathon's confidence. He seems to have what I would almost describe as a sanctified moxie. He most certainly has confidence that if God is on their side then they need not worry. 
It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few. The odds are already long for this tiny and ill-equipped army. And instead of worrying over that, our boy Jon sneaks from camp with his servant and the two of them launch their own attack. 

As you continue on in the chapter, you read the surprising outcome: rather than getting killed, these two men slay about twenty Philistines in their initial attack, which sends the Philistine camp into an uproar, causing mass confusion and self-inflicted harm for the Philistines, and ultimately a rout ensues. The Philistines go from the massive force assuming an easy victory, to fleeing before this tiny army.

One of the things I thought about when read this story last night was a quote from JI Packer. Commenting on the teaching of Keswick theology that Christians should, let go and let God, Packer wisely said,
 The Christian motto should not be "Let go and let God" but Trust God and get going.

Application

It can be very tempting to see something that would obviously please God for us to do. And easier to feel paralyzed by the thought of being obedient. What happens if Jonathan cowers that day, rather than boldly going forward? What happens if his view of God's sovereignty led him to sit on his heels and wait?

Surely there are times for patience and waiting on God. But frankly, I think a lot of Christian "waiting" is little more than cowardice wrapped in nice language. Sometimes God just wants you to be obedient. Trust Him, and get going. 
 

July 26, 2020

Sermon Sunday

Here is the link to last Sunday's sermon from our church, Remsen Bible Fellowship:

July 25, 2020

What John's Aiming For

What was the Apostle John aiming for when he wrote the gospel which bears his name? The apostle tells us in chapter 20, verse 31, that everything he has written was so that we might believe, and that by believing you may have life in his [Jesus’] name. Having considered the content of the belief (that the Messiah, the Son of God, is Jesus), we should ask what is the belief itself? What does it mean to believe in Jesus?



What it's Not

Reading through John’s gospel, one thing clear: he is not seeking a mere intellectual assent. Saying, oh yes, that’s what I think! is not the sort of belief he is driving for.

John 2:23-25, Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.


Jesus looks at the belief of those who have seen him do signs, and yet he doesn’t entrust himself to them. Implied in the text is that they are duplicitous, wishy-washy, and that this faith of theirs is short-lived. (cf., John 6:25-29)



What it Is

The faith Jesus seeks (and thus for which John aims) isn’t a temporary faith, a faith based only on what it can see. It’s a faith that sees what God has done in the past, and subsequently trusts him for the present and the future. This sort of faith is summarized by trusting in Jesus, receiving him for all that he is, and following him. The New City Catechism, in answer to question 30, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?”, answers this way:

Faith in Jesus Christ is acknowledging the truth of everything that God has revealed in his Word, trusting in him, and also receiving and resting on him alone for salvation as he is offered to us in the gospel. 


This strikes the same note as John’s emphasis on abiding. 


John 8:31-32, So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 


 Conclusion


Believing in Jesus certainly must begin with an intellectual assent. But it cannot stay there. It leads to a life characterized by abiding in Christ and his word. Trusting and following him wherever he leads. You see, all those who have been genuinely born from above (see chapter 3) have the Spirit dwelling in them. And having come to know the Truth (Jesus, see 14:6) and being filled with his Spirit, they are transferred from death to life. Darkness to light. They receive the greatest gift they could ever receive: adoption into the family of God (1:12). John wants you to trust Jesus in this consistent, lasting way. Do you?

July 24, 2020

Are You Afraid to Die?

Here is a link to a LeMars Bible Church blog post I wrote on death:


Why Was He Writing?


Why did the apostle John write the gospel which bears his name? In John 20:30-31, we read his answer: 
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Which would seem to indicate that John's intention is to answer this question: Who is Jesus? The answer he provides: The Christ (or the Jewish Messiah, the anointed one from God), the Son of God. 

 However, in an article published in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1987 (and then more briefly in his excellent commentary, the Gospel According to John), D.A. Carson makes the argument that we ought to understand those words in a slightly different order. His argument essentially boils down to this: in v31, the Greek phrase, ἵνα πιστεύητε ὅτι, translated so that you may believe that refers not to who Jesus is, but to who the Messiah, the Son of God  (terms he takes basically as synonyms) is. So the question then becomes: Who is the Messiah, the Son of God? Answer: Jesus. 

This makes a lot of intuitive sense to me as I read John's account of the gospel. I'm not by any means versed enough in Greek to make much of a judgement on Carson's linguistic argument, though I sat with it long enough yesterday that I'm pretty sure I grasp what he is saying. To me the question is, which of these questions makes the best sense of the book?

In the end, either question is going to give us substantially the same answers, because John is going to labor who Jesus is, where he comes from, and what his mission is. But the additional information he provides, the nature of his selectivity in constructing the narrative of signs (see v30), these will be shaped by the foundational nature of which question he is asking. As I'm prepping to preach this text on Sunday, I'm convinced that Carson is correct. The question driving John is, Who is the Messiah? As John records the statements Jesus made, the signs he performed, his substitutionary and atoning death on the cross followed by the Resurrection, it all points to this world transforming answer: The Messiah, the Son of God, the long awaited one is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. 

To an audience of unbelieving Jews (again argued for by Carson based not just on his understanding of this text, but of numerous factors throughout the book), this would be compelling evidence to come to Christ. He is the one they were waiting for. And in believing in him, life is gained. Life with Messiah. Life with God. 

July 23, 2020

An Uncomfortable Quote

This is from Tim Chester's book, Enjoying God, on page 119:
Imagine you've been driving a small car with a beat-up engine which struggles to go much over 30 mph. Then one day someone gives you a powerful new car with a large turbo-charged engine. A week later you shock them by saying, "I haven't really noticed much difference." But then they discover that you've never driven it over 30 mph. You've got this car that can accelerate to 70 mph in three seconds. But you don't notice the difference because you've never hit the accelerator. Some of us don't "feel" the power of the Spirit because we've never hit the accelerator. Don't make your life so safe that you never have cause to notice the Spirit's work.
Are you making your life too safe? Do you ever take actions or initiate conversations where God will obviously have to show up, or do you always play it safe? Do I always play it safe? 

July 22, 2020

Burning the Book

In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, we read not only the prophecies which God made through Jeremiah, but we also encounter much of Jeremiah's life. And as you read his life you are often struck with a sense of pity for this man who faithfully obeyed God year after year after year and seemed to receive little but pain and scorn in return.  Part of why his life proved so difficult was the nature of his message. Jeremiah was speaking to the people of Judah shortly before their captivity in Babylon. He frankly warns them that this is coming, tells them it's too late to change this fact, and exhorts them to bear up submissively underneath the pain that will come.

But the people, especially those in the highest places, resist these words from the Lord through his prophet. 

In chapter 36 we find the story of Jeremiah dictating the words of his prophecy to his assistant, Baruch. After Baruch takes the full dictation, Jeremiah instructs him to take this scroll down to the temple and to read it in the presence of all the people. 


Rightly Responding

In verse 9 we read that the people were gathered together for a time of fasting (given the timing, perhaps because certain cities within the kingdom had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the people were worried about Jerusalem being next). And during the gathering, Baruch stands to read from the scroll. Following this, a number of officials pull him aside and ask him to read it to them again in private (verses 11-15). 

Verse 16 then informs us, When they [the officials] heard all the words, they turned to one another in fear. God's judgement was coming. Nebuchadnezzar would take the city, and the people needed to know how to rightly respond to this. Fear was a right feeling, a good response. And it drives them to their next thought: the king needs to hear this (v16b). 

Proverbs 1:7 tells us that, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. These men are on the path to knowledge and understanding. If they are willing to submit to what God has spoken through his prophet, though they will still go into captivity, they will know how to prosper there. But the end of Proverbs 1:7 also contains a warning: fools despise wisdom and instruction.


Light it Up

After ushering Baruch away and instructing he and Jeremiah both to hide, these officials bring the scroll to the king. And king Jehoiakim respond? He has his underling Jehudi take the scroll and read it to him. But rather than patiently and humbly listen, every couple of columns he has the servant stop. 

Now pause for a moment and place yourself in the land of Israel, some 2,600 years ago. It's winter time, and there is a definite chill. It isn't Minnesota, but it isn't warm. And there's no boiler or furnace to turn the knob and get some extra heat. So the king sits before a fire. And verse 23 tells us, As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 

Have you ever responded this way to God? I remember in my high school years I was given a copy of Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle. In this book, Ryle simply unpacks some solid biblical truths for young men to live by. And I didn't want to hear it. So instead of carefully heeding his advice, as a wise person would have done, I rejected it. What does some preacher from the 19th century know, anyway? I valued my ideas more than the wisdom that comes from God.

We see this attitude in Jehoiakim as well. In verses 24-25 we read, Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Deliah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.

He didn't fear the Lord. He wouldn't hear God's word. He despised both wisdom and instruction. And as the story continues, rather than finding repentance, we find the king seeking to seize the prophet and his secretary. It is a tragic story of hardheartedness. But it's also not an unusual story. It's pretty easy to see myself in Jehoiakim's shoes. Let me urge you, as you open God's word, or listen to it on your phone, or sit in church hearing a sermon: plead for humility and a softness of heart. Heed the voice of the real king, the king of heaven.

July 21, 2020

Acknowledge Him


In Proverbs 3:5-6 we read these familiar words, 
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
What does it mean to acknowledge the Lord in all your ways? I think in the text we see an action and an attitude. But before we look at those, we'll look at another action that we find elsewhere in the Bible.


Prayer

The first action that comes to mind in regard to acknowledging God is simply to talk to him. I remember when I was just out of high school and considering joining the military. I had a couple of meetings with the recruiter and was planning on moving that direction. One day I talked to my grandmother about this and she mentioned to me how hurt my grandfather was that I hadn't talked to him about it at all. He had served for over 20 years in both active duty and the reserves, and therefore would have had a lot of helpful input and wisdom to share. But I hadn't acknowledged that. I hadn't spoken with him.

The apostle Paul urges in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, pray without ceasing. We should consistently and even constantly being demonstrating a moment-by-moment dependence upon our heavenly Father by speaking with him.


Heed the Word

We should also heed the word of God. Back in Proverbs 3, in verses 1-2 we read, 
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. 
In prayer we come to God and acknowledge him by declaring our dependence and asking for help. In coming to the word of God, we are asking him to speak to us. What should we do? There's an answer in the book. At times that answer takes the form of a direct command, or a clear implication. She I cheat on my wife? Thou shalt not commit adultery. Should I hold a grudge against someone? Do not let the sun go down on your anger. 

But very often the "answer" takes the form of a pair of glasses. What do I mean by that? When our minds are conformed to God's thoughts by the process of constant exposure to his word (through private reading, hearing the word preached publicly, studying with other believers, etc), we gain the right lenses through which to view the world. 

It is to this end that Moses points in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, when he tells the people that the word is to be daily on their heart, taught to their children, spoken of in the home and while traveling along the way, upon laying down at night and rising in the morning. Expose yourself constantly to the light of God's word.


Humility

Both of those actions assume an attitude of humility. A posture of submission to God. We have to realize that we aren't as wise or good as he is, and therefore we stand in need of him. Thus we read in Proverbs 3:7-8, 
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
There is joy and refreshment to be found in humbling yourself before God and acknowledging your need of him. Acknowledge him, humble yourself before him, and he will make your paths straight.  

July 19, 2020

Review: Enjoying God by Tim Chester


Enjoying God: Experience the power and love of God in everydayEnjoying God: Experience the power and love of God in everyday by Tim Chester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most spiritually enriching books I have ever read.

View all my reviews

July 16, 2020

Spread Your Bread

Here is a link to a LeMars Bible Church blog post I wrote on generosity:


Le Mars Bible Church | Spread Your Bread

July 15, 2020

Review: One Assembly by Jonathan Leeman


One Assembly: Rethinking the Multisite and Multiservice Church ModelsOne Assembly: Rethinking the Multisite and Multiservice Church Models by Jonathan Leeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First two chapters are good, and I found them persuasive. Third chapter was better, and should be required reading for any church leader. The appendices were also helpful in substantial ways.

View all my reviews

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).