Material for holiness

Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.

Let me use disappointment as material for patience

Let me use success as material for thankfulness

Let me use trouble as material for perseverance

Let me use danger as material for courage

Let me use reproach as material for long suffering

Let me use praise as material for humility

Let me use pleasures as material for temperance

Let me use pain as material for endurance

– John Baillie

“The only complete realist”

Read today in church:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

– Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)

When I think of the Lord’s suffering, it’s common for me to concentrate on the last day of his life. This is what we call his Passion, when Christ endured the excruciating pain of torture, mockery, and execution for our sakes and for God’s glory.

I often forget that Christ’s entire life was part of his Passion. As the writer of Hebrews recounts above, Christ “suffered when tempted”, the only man who has ever resisted fully and completely the temptations common to us all.

C.S. Lewis has a great quote on this (and is there any quote from old Jack that isn’t great?); this was also shared from the pulpit today.

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness – they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In contrast to this, I had a very weak day. Emotionally on edge, for reasons I’m not exactly sure of, I lashed out more than once today at those closest to me. I did a poor job of resisting the temptation to give into what my flesh was telling me to say. I’ve asked for and have received forgiveness, but the regret lives on.

Thank God that every new day is truly a “new day” when you’re in Christ. I’m going to bed tonight hoping to do better tomorrow, trusting in my great High Priest to continue molding me into the man he wants me to be.

Embarrassed by each other?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

These are words Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night before his torture and crucifixion. They amaze me. They cause me to bow in shame. They cause me to rejoice.

This passage has been simmering in me for quite some time. I have found it hard to tackle this core truth; this beautiful, beautiful diamond of a command that Jesus gave us his last night on earth pre-resurrection.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” – by what? By the fact that we have love for one another. I like the way the ESV (and NASB too) render that last phrase: “if you have love for one another”.

Do you know anyone who has love for you? I certainly hope so. I hope I’m not mangling this or reading too much into it – not all versions translate it that way – but I am caught by the subtle difference between “if you have love for one another” and “if you love one another”. Someone can love you and never show it, can’t they? Someone can say they love you, and not mean it. But if someone has love for you – the image I get is that they have love ready, available, on full display, kind of like a good meal, set out for you – now that’s quite another thing.

But be that as it may, it is definitely quite another thing, quite a different thing, quite an amazing thing, to love our brothers and sisters in Christ so that all the world can see it. That’s the beauty of the church. You see, loving people who are just like you is easy. But the church is diverse, different, full of many, many different kinds of people, spanning the globe and spanning history.

The love of Christ is the kind of love that can spring into full bloom between two people who’s only similarity is that they are in Christ. When the world sees that, they know it’s real. The love of Jesus, truly and freely given to our brothers and sisters in Christ, is the height of (to use a word very popular these days) authenticity.

It’s absolutely beautiful.

And this is one reason I am afraid. Not just because the church is divided; God’s love can span those divisions and has for millennia. But in our day, in this time, it seems our divisions are becoming more dumbed-down, and hence less hefty, and, therefore, far less excusable. It’s one thing to respectfully divide from a brother over the weightier matters of doctrine. It’s quite another to divide from him because he isn’t as relevant as you are, or because you want to be called “Christian” and he wants to be called “Christ-follower”, or because his suit irritates you, or . . . whatever. It’s one thing to disagree on the meaning of communion, quite another to bash your brother because you think ministering to people’s physical needs is primary and you’re embarrassed because he wants to give them a Bible.

It’s common to be embarrassed by our brothers and sisters in Christ, isn’t it? It’s so easy to have that thought slip into our minds: “They’re doing it wrong. They’re giving me a bad name.” When, God help us, by our rejection of our brother, we give Christ a bad name. I’ve written around this subject recently, and continue to think on it with Christ’s words in mind.

I read the passage at the top of this post and I want to sing and dance for joy, and I want to fall to the ground and hide from God’s wrath. I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that it means that Jesus wants us to have love for our Christian brothers and sisters. Full, unashamed, on-display, familial love. Not a love that sweeps aside true differences, but rather a love like that with which Christ loved, one that sharpens our brothers and sisters, speaks the truth in love, forgives, yields, shows mercy, gives others preference in honor, and stands beside them always.

“just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

If there was ever someone who Jesus could be embarrassed of, it’s me. It might be you too. Yet he loves me. And he loves you. And he wasn’t too embarrassed to be seen with us. In fact, he humbled himself beyond all imagining to come dwell among us so we could kill him.

In light of that, the least I can do is follow his example and love you.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7

Be of good cheer

When the cares of my heart are many,

your consolations cheer my soul.

Psalm 94:19

Have you ever tried to encourage someone?

It feels clumsy sometimes. I find the same phrases spilling out of me:

“It will be alright”

“This too shall pass”

“Hang in there”

And, how about this one?

“C’mon, cheer up!”

Works like a charm, no?


See? clumsy.

God, on the other hand, doesn’t know clumsy. He knows the end from the beginning, actually, and when he says it will be alright, it will. From his perspective, it already is.

We don’t always believe that, of course. At least I don’t. It’s so tempting to want proof that all will turn out right in the end, and it can be so frustrating to have to walk by faith.

I often wonder at the saying “God has a wonderful plan for your life”. Now, I fully believe he has a wonderful plan, and I fervently hope he is including me in it. But as I read scripture I become increasingly convinced that he has absolutely no plan to fill me in on the details. That’s not his way. He wants me to walk by faith, not by sight. He wants me to trust.

Because he truly does have it under control. He’s got this. For him, it’s easy.

I really don’t need to worry.

And if that consolation doesn’t cheer my soul, I’m not sure what will.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Only one is worthy

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

– Revelation 5:1-5

This spoke to me tonight. I started by looking for passages on comfort, because, goodness knows I could use some encouragement right now, and I’ll bet you could to.

But I landed upon this. And on the backdrop of my angst and tribulation of mind, this passage chiseled itself in gold letters.

Sometimes I just don’t know what on earth to do. Seriously; everything I’ve tried has turned to skubalon and I’m at a loss. Thank God for prayer, but even that becomes such difficult work when words fail. And I am realizing more with every passing day how terribly bad I am at it.

Among many other things, this passage has to do with what worth is. I can almost see the hot tears running down John’s cheeks as he begins to weep loudly, realizing that no one there is worthy to open the scroll. Likewise, our souls cry out for the One who is worthy. We long to hear the news: “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered . . .”

I am so encouraged by this: Jesus Christ is worthy! He has conquered! All power and authority has been given to him. He is the King.

And he is the only one who is worthy, in worthiness as measured with the standard of Heaven.

John wept for one who was worthy. We weep today to find the same one. We need him. We need him so badly that it hurts.

Jesus is worthy. He’s the only one who is.

In reading that, I am comforted. Praise be to God!

Good night everyone.

Jesus knows us

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.

– John 2:23-25 (ESV)

Don’t you admire Jesus?

That’s a strange question, isn’t it? It’s common to be asked if you love Jesus, or if you follow him, or if you obey him. But I read passages like the one above and I feel a deep sense of respect and admiration for Jesus as well.

Jesus was wise. At the time of this passage, his ministry was just starting, and it was being authenticated by signs and wonders. People were beginning to get swept up in it; they were starting to believe.

Look at how the New Living Translation translates that last sentence:

“No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.”

No they didn’t. Jesus knew well what mankind was (and is) like; with his sinless eyes he had witnessed thirty years of our shenanigans, our schemes, our deceits, murders, idolotry and wickedness. We were created through him in the first place, and through our own sin we marred his creation.

I sense that Jesus was glad people believed. But he kept it in perspective; He knew that the same people praising his name on this day would be the ones calling for his death all too soon.

Jesus knows us.

And that’s what makes Jesus that much more worthy of praise. He knew all about us, and he still stayed, still labored, still loved, taught, and served a thick-necked, unstable and fickle people.

We looked in his eyes and saw love. He looked in ours and saw his own death. He didn’t need to be told what mankind was like.

Yet he stayed and saw his mission through, out of love for us and out of a deep desire to glorify the Father.

Thank you Lord Jesus!

The urgency of Today

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

– Hebrews 3:12-19

The words “original confidence” above bring back so many memories.

. . . if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

I remember my original confidence, when I first knew the Lord. I hope that I have held on to it and built on it over the years, but I also find myself wanting to reach back to those days sometimes. My original confidence sparkled with a childlike (and clumsy) faith that I have, in many ways, “grown out of”, to my detriment.

And I know many – too many – people who had what appeared to be an original confidence in the Lord which now appears to be missing. Or at least it’s not visible anymore. By appearances they have fallen into the trap the writer warns us about in Hebrews 2; that of neglecting so great a salvation.

For salvation is often neglected. We have so many other things to attend to, or so we think. I’ve learned that it doesn’t take long for the crust to begin building up around our hearts. It can come in those difficult years when, weaned from the student ministry we grew up in, we find that this faith we call our own is suddenly a strange thing, and a thing that needs tending and diligence that we are no longer willing to give. Tending our faith is often something we never learned to do.

For others of us, other things have shoved their way in; jealous gods of this world who stand against the one true God. Almost without knowing it, we find ourselves once again at the pagan altar, offering strange fire to the gods of our own imagining.

. . . if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

The writer points us to the Israelites of the Exodus. The horror of their fate is a punch to the heart when you think of it. They all died, save for Joshua and Celeb, in the wilderness, never having gone to the promised land. And all because of one day, when they heard the call of God to take the land, but because of unbelief and fear they decided they weren’t able.

They lost their original confidence in God on the day of decision. And the result was tragedy. If only they had kept their hearts soft, their eyes clear, and their confidence grounded in the Lord who had brought them through so much!

Today has an urgency to it. This may be the day of our calling, when our faith ceases to be something we keep in our back pockets for difficult situations, and itself becomes the driving force that hurls us, joyfully and with full confidence, into difficult situations that will unleash the terrifying, wonderful, joyous will of God upon us and those around us.

Sometimes every day for the rest of our lives depends on what we do, and Who we believe, today.

Big enough for “why”

Why does the wicked renounce God

and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,

that you may take it into your hands;

to you the helpless commits himself;

you have been the helper of the fatherless.

– Psalm 10:13-14

Have you ever noticed that so many lines in the Psalms start with the word “why”?

This psalm, psalm 10, starts with a “why”. Verse 1 asks “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?” It is a cry heard throughout history, uttered by the despairing, the oppressed, the fearful, the helpless – often, the writers of Scripture. Feeling helpless, small and alone in a very, very large universe is part of the human condition. At least it is when we’re looking at life honestly.

The psalmist here answers his initial “why” question with another, in verse 13: “why does the wicked renounce God”? Indeed. We may feel alone in a very large universe, but the psalmist rightly recognizes the fact that we are not alone. We have a King who “is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.” (verse 16). He is King of the entire universe, and, indeed, he’s bigger than it is. Even the nations, these vast, quarrelsome and often oppressive beasts that prowl history, will perish. The Lord will remain. Wickedness will not prevail. And those who do it would be well advised to pay attention to the one to whom they will give an account. To the one who knows the Lord and walks in his ways, the question must be asked – why do the wicked renounce God? Can’t they see?

Our Lord has a special place in his heart for the helpless who cry out to him. And he helps and fights for those who are “fatherless”; those who have no one to fight for them.

And he’s big enough to gently heed our “whys”, and strengthen the heart from which those questions ring.

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;

you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,

so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

– Psalm 10:17-18