SAVORING THE BETTER FOOD

When Fighting To Consume Enough Calories Teaches a Spiritual Lesson

Day 20. Operation RoboJaw 2 is nearly three weeks in my rear view mirror. Lord willing, tomorrow in Miami, the wires come off this jaw!

Muir Woods, California, USA

The Lord has taught me so many things through this latest trial. One particularly important lesson came soon after surgery. I visited my PCP for a post-op follow up. He took one look at my weight and read me the riot act. “You’ve lost nine pounds in a week. You have to eat more!”

Easy for him to say. But I did and have. The scale stabilized right around 170 lbs. I look forward to getting back on the eat-anything-you-want diet until I can pack on another ten or so pounds.

Clearly taking in enough nutrients and calories matters greatly to one’s physical health. The wake up call in the doc’s office that day got me to thinking about the principle on a spiritual level.

The Scriptures refer to God’s word as our necessary spiritual food of a superior kind. Job put it this way: I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (23:12). Jesus, after 40 days of fasting, said this: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

The Psalmist describes the truly happy man with a vivid metaphor in Psalm 1:1-3.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Are you taking in enough spiritual nutrition? How’s your daily feeding on God’s word? Does 1 Peter 2:2-3 describe your experience–Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2017 is fast upon us. Might this be the time you can fortify your spiritual health habits with a regular diet of  feasting on God’s word? Here are some nutritional plan suggestions to help.

One, read five chapters of the Psalms and one of Proverbs a day. For extra strength read a chapter in both the Old and New Testaments as well.

Two, purchase a subscription to Table Talk Magazine. In addition to the excellent articles and devotions in each publication, they include a reading plan for working your way through the Bible in a year. I have used this resource for years. It’s a treasure!

Three, get a one year plan for reading through the Bible like you can find here. Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day. Most of us do. Get started again as soon as you can.

But don’t go days without feasting. You’ll lose too much weight!

Rather read and meditate daily on God’s word and grow into a flourishing fruit-yielding tree!

Toughest School Ever

I don’t make a big deal out of it, but I have three earned degrees. I like to say I am officially educated beyond my intelligence. My bachelors at UCF in Liberal Studies didn’t really demand that much of me. The M. Div. at seminary put me through a great deal more pain, especially on certain subjects. The D. Min. at RTS focused on such a practical curriculum that I can’t really say that I found its challenges all that great. The one exception to that came in the form of writing my dissertation. I thought I would never finish that monster.

By far, the toughest school in which I ever enrolled, and in which I continue to matriculate quite honestly, is the school of contentment. I call it a school because of the way Paul writes about this virtue in Philippians 4:10-13.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Paul wrote from prison. They did things differently back then. Jailers didn’t feed their inmates. Prisoners depended upon outside help for provision. The Philippian church so loved Paul that they sent a gift to him. He responded with this letter, including something of a thank you note at the end.

Quite obviously they pleased him. Their gift caused him to rejoice greatly in God. He commended them for their gospel grace of generosity. But not so fast. Lest they get the wrong impression, he made haste to point out a surprising absence of need in what to most readers most certainly would have seemed quite the opposite. He categorically denied anything of the like.

And with that he spun off into a testimony of his own enrollment with Christ in the school of contentment. Again, I call it a school because of the repetitive terminology Paul uses. “I have learned.” “I know.” The language suggests a process of instruction over time in the school of God’s providence that brought Paul to an enviable state of contentment he enjoyed regardless of his circumstances, including a dungeon!

In subsequent posts I hope to share insights from the text, as well as other Scriptures about the nature of this most rigorous school of contentment. But let me close with this analogy and insight from Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) from his classic The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:

When the yoke is first put upon a heifer and it wriggles up and down and will not be quiet, if after many months or years it will not draw quietly, the husbandman would rather fatten it and prepare it for the butcher than be troubled any longer with it. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12:11). It is true: our afflictions are not joyous, but grievous. Though it is very grievous when our affliction first comes, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. When you have been a long time in the school of afflictions, you are a very dullard if you have not learned this contentment. “I have learned,”said Paul, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phi 4:11). Paul had learned this lesson quickly, [but] you have been learning many years! A new cart may creak and make a noise; but after it has been used a while, it will not do so. So when you are first a Christian, perhaps you make a noise and cannot bear affliction; but are you an old Christian and yet will you be a murmuring Christian? Oh, it is a shame for any who have been a long time in the school of Jesus Christ to have murmuring spirits.
This particular heifer feels that shame more than he cares to admit after 40 plus years in the the school of contentment but still struggling with a murmuring spirit. Oh for grace to learn better the secret of contentment. More on that to come in the reflections on my toughest school ever.
After all, who wants to be dullard, whatever that means.

Sweet Fruit of Gospel Accountability

For several years now I have enjoyed a relationship with another pastor outside our city. We meet not as often as I would like. But my life has been much enriched by his fellowship and partnership in the gospel.

In our last encounter he shared quite vulnerably with me about an area of his life and ministry for which he felt great concern. I sensed the weight of his burden. The Lord nudged me to propose a mutual forty-day exhort-one-another-daily accountability campaign of sin-killing in the spirit of Heb. 3:13. So for several weeks now we have engaged in daily contact whether by text, email, or phone – all bathed in prayer designed to pull down strongholds.

Today I received from my brother the text of a hymn over which he had wept and prayed earlier this morning.  The hymn is by John Newton (written in a particularly difficult season in his life) entitled I Asked the Lord.

I asked the Lord that I might grow,
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

It was He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer.
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request.
And by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart.
And let the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.

Yes, more with His own hand, He seemed,
Intent to aggravate my woe.
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried.
Will You pursue Your worm to death?”
“This is the way” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and strength.”

“These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may find thy all in Me.”

This is an example what I call sweet fruit of gospel accountability. Do you have someone in your life waging war with you against sin in gospel grace? Pray that God gives you such a brother or sister and enjoy the spoils that will come your way. Challenge someone to do this with you soon, particularly if you are locked in a battle you are struggling to win.

For a soulful treatment of this hymn by Indelible Grace click here.

The Rhythm of Grace

This comes to you from the pen of covenant member, Matt Kenyon. Thanks Matt!

So I’ve been grinding my teeth at night.

My dentist says it’s genetic. Could be. Personally, I think it’s my trademark anxiety that comes from too many months of half-heartedly abiding in Christ and steadily drifting from the love of His sovereign grace and prayer. I kept that diagnosis to myself while I was in the dental chair, though.

Sunday’s sermon delivered at Orlando Grace on the fifteenth chapter of John was no coincidence, and was a timely example of the Lord’s common grace in my life.

Throughout the better part of the chapter, Jesus is articulating the believer’s relationship to Himself and the Father through the lush metaphor of the vine and the branches. Much of the focus of the Lord’s words are in reference to His own role as the grace-supplying vine and the Father’s role as the loving pruner of the Christian. However, it isn’t long before we run headlong into a single commanding verb from the lips of our Savior that requires intentionality and action from the believer: “abide.”

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)

Abiding may sound ethereal; I mean, how exactly do you “abide” in anybody, much less the God of the universe? Jesus elaborates further:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will done for you.” (John 15:7)

Now, we’re getting somewhere. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, the means of grace by which we abide are simple: being saturated in the reading and memorization of Scripture (His very “words”) on the daily, being constant in prayer (Romans 12:12), living in a covenant community with other believers, among others. Notice that I said simple — not easy. This is why we need the grace of a Romans 8:28 God undergirding our feeble wills even to perform such acts of spiritual discipline. After all, Jesus plainly tells us in regard to all matters of spiritual effectiveness: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)

Currently, I’m recording an album, and trucking my way through a very robust online video class on sound editing and recording. One of the fundamental lessons deals with amplified sound waves. We’ve all seen what a sound wave looks like: a line that peaks and valleys in different patterns over and under a zero axis. Now, I’ll spare you the geek-talk, but one of the examples in the lesson illustrated what happens when you double (or amplify) the sound wave just milliseconds out-of-sync. The peak of the first waveform doesn’t match the peak of the next, and the resulting sound is slightly less preferable than nails on a chalkboard. The further away the sound waves spread from each other, the nastier and more distorted the sound becomes. However, when they are perfectly in sync with each other, the difference is like night and day. The doubled wave lays perfectly in line with the first wave, and the sound is amplified, pristine and clearer than ever.

This is what happens to me when I fall out of sync with the gospel of grace; when I’m not actively abiding in the vine. Like I said before, abiding is a verb that demands intentionality. You don’t wake up one morning and accidentally start abiding in the Lord. On the contrary actually, most mornings we wake up thinking about our problems, our idols, our vices and our comforts. The original rhythm Adam had with the Father in the garden has become all wonky and awkward, and must be corrected by grace-laden prayer and mind-renewing Scripture.

So, today, let’s start abiding deeply again. Let us not dare, however, attempt it upon our own flawed ability. Knowing that we are justified not by works, but by grace, let us find strength in Philippians 4:12, in God moving and working underneath all of our actions, to abide. The Son shall supply the nutrients to fight, the Father shall prune the deadness that bars, and we shall certainly bear fruit in the rhythm of the heavenly.

The Finer Art of How to Walk Into Church

What better time to consider this concept than having opened a new building?

As we all attempt to carve out our particular spots in the auditorium, perhaps we could take a g0spel-shaped tack in determining our seats from week to week.

How so? Here’s a thought.

Pray about where you sit. This is called the “Pew Prayer’ or in our case the “Seat Prayer,” since we don’t have any pews.

The idea is not original with me. I came across it recently while reading through a great little book on ministry called The Trellis & the Vine. Copies, by the way, are available in our resource center for only $8.

I borrowed it from an article referenced in the footnotes for chapter four entitled The Ministry of the Pew.

Here is the thrust of the idea from the article:

Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 4; 1 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own. . . . If at church we are working to strengthen our fellow believers, where we sit becomes important since part of our work will be talking to our neighbor in the pew, welcoming people, helping each other understand God’s word and praying with each other. The ‘Pew Prayer’ was a significant turning point in my understanding of what church is all about. It changed my reasons for going to church. The shift was made from being the ‘helpee’ to the helper, the served to the servant (emphasis added). Church is where we seek spiritual food and encouragement in order to become more godly; but church is also where we go in order to feed other people and encourage them. In God’s mercy, we become more Christ-like in the process, as like him we deny ourselves for the sake of others. But our purpose in gathering with God’s people is to strengthen them and build the body of Christ. We look for opportunities to assist the growth of the church in practical ways.

Good stuff. I commend the notion to us all.

Beginning this Sunday why not walk into church (on time, sorry, couldn’t resist) praying the pew prayer: “Lord, where would you have me sit and help me engage with the word in the power of the Spirit as led?”

Resource Center Upgrade

I’ve been putting our summer intern, Jacob Yarborough, (What a HUGE blessing he has been to us!) through a variety of paces so he can experience the range of responsibilities that come with pastoral ministry.

Today I challenged him to write a blog post on our new facility’s version of the resource center, something I’ve wanted to blog about for a while now. I post it here today with a few tweaks of my own.

With the new building comes change in many ways.

One of the things that underwent a change was the Resource Center. Before it consisted of a small bookrack on a table in the hallway of the SDA, now we have four great shelving units with many titles on display smack dab in the middle of our gathering space/entry way.

The purpose of the Recourse Center is to be just that, a resource for the spiritual life and well being of the flock at OGC. Our staff selected these titles specifically with the our congregation in mind. This collection of books and booklets is meant to educate, encourage, and equip the people of OGC by giving them a reliable source for quality reads without the trouble of researching authors or titles. Many of these books will help to establish a Christ-centered worldview that will serve to shape our everyday lives.

Please make the effort to stop by the Resource Center Book area in the main lobby sometime soon. There are over 30 different titles on display from authors like: John Piper, J.I. Packer, Ted Tripp, Francis Chan, and Mark Dever. There is a price chart on one of the shelves to let you know what the cost of the books is as well as a collection box to place payment in for any book that you might want. The money made from book sales will go back into restocking the shelves with more great books.

Some new titles just added to the shelves are: Welcome to a Reformed Church by Daniel Hyde and What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips. Both of these books are especially helpful to members and regular attendees of OGC, not to say newcomers unfamiliar with our tradition, who might want to expand their understanding of what it means to be reformed.

In the future we will be featuring a resource of the month to draw attention to strategic books that change people’s lives. Watch the announcement slides and blog posts in the future for more information.

Reading quality spiritual books makes a difference in our lives. Why not pick up one of these excellent titles this Sunday and dive in at your first available reading opportunity?

A Frightening Prospect

Someone has said, “You’ll be the same person next year except for the books you read and the people you engage.” Surely it isn’t as simple as that, but the force of the statement makes a valuable point. What we read and who we engage do make a difference in to what extent we grow from one year to the next. When Paul tells Timothy to demonstrate progress evident to all (1 Tim. 4:15) I take it to mean that logging another twelve months on the calendar with little to no recognizable change is something to fear in a good sense of the word.

So, how goes your reading this year? No book matters more than the Bible. Are you in the book of books? Are you persevering with your reading through the Bible in a year? Moses emphasized the importance of reading here above anywhere else with these words in Deut. 32:47 – “For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life.” But what about other books?  It’s already March. When was the last time you read a book on theology, marriage, family, parenting, the church, evangelism, prayer, missions, or a host of other weighty subjects? You make an investment in your spiritual progress when you read substantive books. Why not make a goal to read nine books between now and 2013? That’s only a book a month.

What about the people in your life? Paul writes in 1 Cor. 11:1 – “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” With whom are you spending time for the purpose of spiritual formation? Whom do you know going so hard after God that to imitate them would be for you to imitate Christ? When did you last ask someone to disciple you? To mentor you in spiritual things? To join you in a Fight Club? Nobody grows by accident. Perhaps it is time to get intentional about making progress in the things of God by connecting with others who will challenge your socks off.

What kind of people will we be come January 2013?

May our progress be evident to all for the books we have read and the people we have engaged!

The Cross Centered Life

Lately the Lord has seen fit to slap me around a bit about my lack of attention to the gospel as the main thing in my ministry. Believe me, not even someone as thick-headed as me could miss the many messages from on high.

As a consequence I’ve made it my mission the last couple of months to get my hands on as many reading materials as possible to help recalibrate my pastoral trajectory.

Someone lent me C. J. Mahaney’s little jewel The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing to take on our recent trip to Idaho. Nancy and I read through it for our family worship devotions.

The founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries explains his purpose this way: to restate the obvious, yet oft-neglected, truth of the gospel, to bring it before you one more time (p. 16). Actually he means to bring the reader to the gospel one more time with a view to keeping it everlastingly at the forefront for all time! Mahaney doesn’t say a lot in terms of volume (it’s only 89 pages, small pages at that) but he says an awful lot in those pages just the same.

Candidates for reading included those who often lack joy, aren’t consistently growing in spiritual maturity, their love lacks passion for God, and are always looking for some new technique, some “new truth” or new experience that will pull all the pieces of their faith together.

He tempts the reader right out of the chute with these enticements about learning to live the cross centered life:

  • breaking free from joy-robbing, legalistic thinking and living
  • leaving behind the crippling effects of guilt and condemnation
  • stopping basing your faith on your emotions and circumstances
  • growing in gratefulness, joy, and holiness

Particularly helpful was his chapter entitled The Cross Centered Day – Practical Ways to Center Every Day around the Cross. He calls these ways to preach the gospel to yourself on a daily basis. They include

  • memorizing the gospel
  • praying the gospel
  • singing the gospel
  • reviewing how the gospel has changed your life
  • studying the gospel

Pick up a copy for your own library, read it, and you may end of feeling like Martin Luther who said, I feel as if Jesus had died only yesterday.

The Power of Moods to Shape the Mood

For years, even after my conversion, I went about my days often as a pretty moody person.

Back in the time when Tim LaHaye’s temperament categories captured the evangelical imagination, I always got stuck with the same label of the four: melancholy (choleric, sanguine, and phlegmatic rounding out the group). Ask Nancy and she will probably tell you that this moody blues pattern in her husband during far too many of those early years made for one of the biggest challenges to her marital adjustment.

I am happy to say after nearly forty years of walking with Jesus that the label doesn’t stick so well anymore. That’s not to say that I don’t struggle with melancholy from time to time. I do. But things have changed by God’s grace and the power of the gospel.

Understanding the power of the gospel and living in the grip of grace that delivers one from melancholy depends a great deal on grasping the relationship between the moods of Greek verbs. Gotcha thinking now, don’t I? You probably didn’t guess that trajectory in my thinking.

But it’s true, entirely true, in the relationship between the indicative and the imperative moods. The indicative mood in languages states what is. The imperative, on the other hand, declares what should be. The former is descriptive; the latter is prescriptive. To put it another way, the indicative tells us who we are in Christ because of the gospel while the imperative tells us how we should live in light of the gospel.

For example, Ephesians 2:4-6 states what is. Because of God’s great love, even when we were dead in sin, He made us alive together with Christ, raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. We refer to that as positional truth. That’s our position in Christ. Ephesians 4:1-3, on the other hand, declares what should be in light of what is. Because of what God has done for us in Jesus we should walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. The rest of those verses goes on to unpack what worthy walking looks like.

That’s only one of a myriad of examples from the New Testament. Here’s the point. Don’t confuse your who with your do. Don’t switch your indicative with your imperative. The Bible never does. The indicative always precedes the imperative, never the other way around. In Christ what you do does not determine who you are; who you are determines what you do! We don’t obey the commands of Christ in the word of God to make ourselves pleasing to God; we obey the commands of Christ in the word of God because we are pleasing to God in Christ.

This is huge in terms of shaping emotional moods! If you confuse your who with your do, if you switch the moods, you will end up either despairing because you never measure up, or you go the other way and end up bragging at how much you have it together. Neither of those moods pleases God.

I was reminded the other morning just how much the gospel has changed my moods by a rather silly incident. Nancy prepared a dynamite egg & cheese strata for our weekly staff meeting. I get up earlier than she does on Tuesday morning so it fell to me to preheat the oven and get the thing cooking while our guys prayed. Sounds simple enough.

But when she came out to the kitchen I heard a gasp and wondered, What did I do wrong now? Turns out I had preheated the oven but never put the casserole in there! Poor Nanc had to scramble literally, whipping ups some eggs. Plan B she graciously called it. How cool is it to live with a wife constrained by the gospel?

Tell you the truth, I was tempted, really tempted, to do that silly thing I have often done. I thought seriously about playing that game I play so well called beat up on PC. I know it’s silly, but that’s the very kind of thing that can put me into an emotional tailspin!

And then I remembered the gospel. It’s not about my performance; it’s about His provision. He has perfected me for all time (Hebrews 10:14). I am complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). The pleasure of God with me His child does not depend on remembering to put the strata in the oven or any other assignment for that matter. It depends upon my union with Christ and God’s absolute delight with Him.

If we get this, if we keep our moods in the right order, then the joy of the Lord really will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and our moods will be shaped for the glory of God and testify to the beauty of the gospel.