A New Year’s Call

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What summons beckon you in 2014? If you are like most folks, lots of things run through your mind.

Of all the options you weigh, consider this from Scottish churchman and hymn writer, Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), among, if not the most important of them:

Be much alone with God. Do not put Him off with a quarter of an hour morning and evening. Take time to get thoroughly acquainted. Converse over everything with Him. Unbosom yourself wholly,—every thought, feeling, wish, bonarplan, doubt,—to Him. He wants converse with His creatures; shall His creatures not want converse with Him? He wants, not merely to be on “good terms” with you, if one may use man’s phrase, but to be intimate; shall you decline the intimacy, and be satisfied with mere acquaintance? What! Intimate with the world, with friends, with neighbors, with politicians, with philosophers, with naturalists, or with poets; but not with God? That would look ill indeed. Folly, to prefer the clay to the potter, the marble to the sculptor, this little earth and its lesser creatures to the mighty Maker of the universe, the great “All and in all!”

Might you resolve to spend more time alone with God this coming year than in any previous one of your life? If so, you will never regret it.

Why Read Through the Bible in a Year or More?

I say a year or more because I don’t want you to get overwhelmed by the size of the challenge. A number of people have told me that they prefer to shoot for reading through the Bible in two years, or more. While I want to encourage you to stretch to accomplish the task in a year, far better that you do it in a longer period of time than not at all.

It has been my practice to read according to a plan for covering Genesis to Revelation in a year for the last ten years. Few disciplines have more thoroughly shaped my spiritual life. I plead with you – pick up a copy of the plan at church this Sunday or access one of the several alternate approaches you can download on line or get a subscription to Tabletalk Magazine which includes a plan in its daily devotional or purchase a Bible organized for daily readings that take you through it in a year. Just do something in this regard. It will change your life!

In case you need convincing about this, I submit to you sixteen biblical reasons for giving yourself to reading through the Bible in a year.

  1. All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Inspired means breathed out. It comes from God Himself to us as a gift. We dare not neglect any portion of the sacred text.
  2. That same Scripture in entirety equips us for a life of good works (2 Tim. 3:17).
  3. That same Scripture in entirety leads us to a proper knowledge and experience of the gift of salvation and the eternal life it bestows (Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 3:15; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:23).
  4. The Word of God is His appointed means for fighting sin, Satan, and temptation in the spiritual warfare that constantly assaults us (Matt. 4:1-1; Eph. 6:17).
  5. Scripture pierces the heart with Holy Spirit conviction to purify thoughts, intentions, and motives of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
  6. Scripture conveys to us the grace of God and helps to build us up in our most holy faith (Acts 20:32; Jude 21).
  7. The Word of God is the means whereby God sanctifies us – sets us apart for His use and purposes (John 17:17; Eph. 5:26). It provides the spiritual nourishment whereby we may grow with respect to our glorious salvation (1 Pet. 2:2).
  8. Scripture keeps us from the peril of spiritual error (Matt. 22:29).
  9. The Bible charts out for us the path to true blessing and happiness (Luke 11:28).
  10. Scripture fosters faith and counters unbelief (John 20:31; Rom. 10:17).
  11. The Word clothes us with a nobility similar to the Bereans who searched the Scriptures DAILY (Acts 17:11).
  12. God’s Word transforms the mind in such a way to make a powerful antidote for being squeezed into the world’s mold (Rom. 12:2).
  13. Scripture increases patience, comfort, and perseverance in the testing that comes with trials (Rom. 15:4).
  14. The Bible sets apart the everyday gifts of God like food and sex by informing our understanding of the proper use of such things (1 Tim. 4:5).
  15. The Scriptures act as a preserving agent keeping us from the disaster of apostasy and spiritual shipwreck (Heb. 2:1-3).
  16. The Bible yields to us the exceedingly precious promises of God whereby we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

There are probably more. But you get the point. Oh how many benefits come to us by the discipline of daily reading the Scriptures! If you make any resolution for 2011 I pray it would be this one. Take up and read through the entire Bible this year.

Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer Continued

Recently I introduced a new series of articles based upon my five year anniversary in August from finishing cancer treatment and remaining cancer-free.

When I first returned to the pulpit in November of 2005, I preached a series of three sermons from Psalm 116 entitled Seven Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer. You can listen to part one here. You can listen to part two here.

I articulated this theme from the text in light of the apparent deliverance enjoyed by the psalmist from some previous life-and-death threat:

Deliverance by God from desperate straits warrants renewed resolves in a relationship with God.

In the previous two posts I addressed the first two resolves: delight in God and pray to God. Now for the third.

Resolved – to rest on God (5-7).

Notice in v. 5 how he rehearses various aspects of God’s glorious character with which he has became even more fascinated. Gracious is the Lord. When God snatches you from the jaws death, what else can He be? And righteous. God was not unrighteous for permitting me to battle head and neck cancer. He does all things well. The Lord is good and righteous in all His ways. And He is merciful. Verse 6 – he preserves the simple.

The word simple means without guile or deceit, open and trusting in God. It’s similar to the idea of Jesus in Matt. 11:25 when he prayed I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children. The uncomplicated. The believing. Such God preserves. He exercises great care over. He watches and keeps. Psalm 121:5 says The Lord is your keeper, your shade on your right hand.

What difference should such truth make in our lives? How should we then live? Do we really reckon God as gracious, righteous, merciful, who watches over us such that He numbers every hair on our heads and not a sparrow drops to earth without His notice? If so how should we talk to ourselves? We must talk as the psalmist does in v. 7 – Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

It’s as if his circumstances temporarily disrupted his spiritual gyroscope and led him to fret and worry. He strayed from the peace and confidence of a rest on God. Sometimes you have to talk to yourself this way. You have to remember the character of the nature of God and preach to yourself, Return O my soul to your rest, God has dealt bountifully with you. He has blessed you beyond your wildest imagination. So do not fret. Do not be anxious. Do not wig out. Do not melt down. None of those things glorify God. Psalm 37:1 says Fret not yourself because of evildoers; Verse 3 – Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

One of the most convicting and penetrating things I think Oswald Chambers ever wrote in his work My Utmost for His Highest has to do with this subject:

Fussing always ends in sin. We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are an indication of how really wise we are; it is much more an indication of how really wicked we are. Fretting springs from a determination to get our own way. Our Lord never worried and He was never anxious, because He was not “out” to realize His own ideas; He was “out” to realize God’s ideas. Fretting is wicked if you are a child of God.

Have you been bolstering up that stupid soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God? Put all “supposing” on one side and dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about that thing. All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.

How’s your self-talk these days? Take your cue from the psalmist if necessary. Tell your soul to return to your rest knowing how bountifully He has dealt with you.

That’s a resolve worth making whether He has delivered you from some desperate strait or not.

Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle With Cancer Continued

Recently I introduced a new series of articles based upon my five year anniversary this August from finishing cancer treatment and remaining cancer-free.

When I first returned to the pulpit in November of 2005, I preached a series of three sermons from Psalm 116 entitled Seven Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer. You can listen to part one here.

I articulated this theme from the text in light of the apparent deliverance enjoyed by the psalmist from some recent life-and-death threat:

Deliverance by God from desperate straits warrants renewed resolves in a relationship with God.

In the last post I addressed the first and arguably most important resolve toward God when He comes through big time in our lives – resolved to delight in God (1a). Now for the second.

Resolved – to pray to God (1b-4).

One major reason for the expanded intensity of the psalmist’s love for God comes from his experience of answered prayer. I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me. The Hebrew word for inclined means to stretch out. There is something here of the condescension of our glorious God who bends down from heaven and cups a hand to His ear in order to hear even our faintest of prayers to Him.

Never is that more appropriate than in a time of crisis. Look at vv. 3-4 – the snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. THEN, I called on the name of the Lord (emphasis added). And he gives us the very words of his prayer – O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul! Not a particularly long prayer. Not a particularly eloquent prayer. Certainly not a difficult prayer. But prayer enough for the dire circumstances. Deliver me.

I can’t tell you how many times I lay my head down on the pillow at night during the final months of treatment and simply prayed, O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. It’s all I could muster.

Why night after night should any of us pray? Because God has decreed and ordained that He will work in our lives through the means of answered prayer. As a result the writer makes his first overt resolve in v. 2 – Therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

Answers to prayer in the past and present should act as impetus for faithfulness in prayer in the future. God never changes. He is faithful to answer prayer. He hears and dispatches the angels of heaven to minister to our needs.

Just consider one verse from Phil. 1:19 to see Paul’s confidence in the efficacy of prayer to bring about deliverance: (writing from prison) For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance – speaking of his imprisonment in Rome. We need both, the prayers of God’s people and the help of the Spirit.

I shudder to think where I would be today without the steadfast intercession of saints all over the world who lifted me up to heaven during my battle with cancer – especially on the foremost of requests that I not sin against God with my lips. This is the great risk in desperate straits. We turn our backs on God. We take issue with Him. We find Him less than good because He ordains as v. 6 puts it that we be brought low. God is just as good in a biopsy that tests positive as He is in one that tests negative.

Don’t ever underestimate the role of prayer in dealing with a crisis of any magnitude. Pray yourself and solicit the prayers of others at every turn.

Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle With Cancer Continued

A few posts back I introduced a new series of articles based upon my five year anniversary this August from finishing cancer treatment and remaining cancer-free.

When I first returned to the pulpit in November of 2005, I preached a series of three sermons from Psalm 116 entitled Seven Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer. You can listen to part one here.

I articulated this theme from the text in light of the apparent deliverance enjoyed by the psalmist from some recent life-and-death threat:

Deliverance by God from desperate straits warrants renewed resolves in a relationship with God.

In this post I want to address the first and arguably most important resolve toward God when He comes through big time in our lives.

First, resolved to delight in God (1a).

We needn’t look beyond the first few words of the psalm to sense the tenor of things in the sweet singer’s heart. I love the Lord. Actually the Hebrew text has no object. It begins with one word, the verb love. I love. We supply the object, Yahweh, from the clause that follows – because he has heard my voice. I love the Lord. Here is a man who is more in love with God than ever. The Law of God commands love for Him (Deut. 6:5). Passionate love. With all you heart and all your soul and all your might.

Emotions are no insignificant part of the spiritual life. The Bible has much to say about what you know AND what you feel. It mattered enough to Jesus to ask Peter three times on the shores of Galilee, Simon, do you love me more than these (John 21:15-17). Psalm 37:4 commands, Delight yourself in the Lord. You simply cannot read the psalms, a book of poetry and songs, without acknowledging the depth of emotions experienced by the believer in God.

It shocks me how indiscriminate I am with the word love. I say things like, I love food. I couldn’t say that for much of 2005. Nothing tasted as it should. Radiation had traumatized my taste buds. I forced myself to eat. I resorted to watching Emeril Live on the Food Network, imagining what it would be like to eat like that again. What astonished me about this was the level of grief I experienced over the loss of food – its taste, its fellowship, its uniqueness at a fine restaurant, its pairing with a glass of wine. The Lord took all that from me then. And the question that came to me with overwhelming force from the Spirit was, Curt, will you find your soul’s satisfaction in me even if eating is never quite the same passion for you? Do you love me more than steak, than pasta, than your wife’s to-die-for Black Magic cake?

To help me answer this, or at least put me on the road to the right answer, God gave me John Piper’s new book God is the Gospel to read at that time. He laments in the introduction:

We have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of. The acid test of biblical God-centeredness – and faithfulness to the gospel – is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God’s worth forever? Is God’s glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness (pp. 11-12, emphasis added).

This is a God-centered psalm. Though the writer clearly appreciates God for His gifts, it is clear that he sees them as rays from the radiant beam of God’s goodness and follows them back to the source and proclaims his unadulterated love for Him first and last. No less than fifteen times he uses the personal name for God, Yahweh. He is enamored with God. God is his all-consuming obsession. He could easily sing with Asaph in Psalm 73:25-26 – Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

What song do you tend to sing these days? If God has rescued you recently in any way, shape or form, may I suggest to you that you should respond with a greater resolve than ever to delight yourself in Him?

Biblical Resolutions Distilled from a Battle with Cancer

As August marks the five year anniversary of my finishing treatment for head and neck cancer, I find myself thinking a lot about that season in my life. I had no idea going in what a monumental deliverance God would work on my behalf through the process. It amounted, in my estimation, to nothing less than a rescue from the jaws of death.

For that reason I had little trouble deciding what text to preach from when I finally returned to the pulpit. God drew me to Psalm 116. You can listen to the first of these sermons here.

There the anonymous psalmist clearly celebrates a miraculous deliverance from some desperate straits. He uses terms that suggest he nearly lost his life. He thought he was a goner. For example, in v. 3 he writes, the snares of death encompassed me. And in v. 8 – you have delivered my soul from death.

He wrote the psalm post-deliverance to celebrate the miraculous intervention of God into his precarious circumstances. Laced throughout the text we find repeated resolves. This thing, whatever it was, made an astonishing impact on the writer. He recorded the specifics for the church in all ages.

From his example I drew this thesis for a series of three messages:

Deliverance by God from desperate straits warrants renewed resolves in a relationship with God.

When God intervenes in your plight and brings you through to the other side and you know that no one else but He could have engineered your deliverance, then it makes all the sense in the world to assess your relationship with Him and make serious resolves to strengthen it. There are seven in the text and, Lord willing, I will blog about them one-by-one throughout the rest of this month.

I continue to be grateful for length of days and look forward to our special celebration of thanksgiving for this miraculous deliverance on August 29!