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When You Meet Trials

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, ESV)

In reading through James 1 this morning I found myself lingering over the word “when” in the second verse. The thing that strikes me about this word is that it’s not “if”. In other words, it’s not a matter of if you encounter trials but rather when. You will encouter trials.

It’s interesting when I consider how people like to refer to the Bible as a “map” or a “guidebook” for life. Typically, you leverage a map or guidebook to identify the best (easiest and fastest) way to get to your destination. When I open the Waze app on my phone every morning and enter in my office address as the destination, I select the route that has the least amount of traffic and slowdowns. I avoid the routes that will cause my commute to be longer or more painful than it needs to be.

Here in James, we are are not told how we can avoid trials. We’re simply told to expect them and we’re told how to respond when we encounter them. We’re to “count it all joy”. These trials of various kinds are helpful in testing our faith and building up our endurance to persevere through this life as we are continually being sanctified and becoming more and more like Jesus each day.

It may not be the easiest path. But it is worth it. For our good and His glory.

We Your People

The preamble to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[note 1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Structurally, the preamble includes:

  • Identity of the authors – “We the People of the United States”.
  • Their motivation – “in Order to form a more perfect Union, . . . ”.
  • Their affirmation of popular sovereignty – “do ordain and establish. . .”.

For some reason this preamble came to mind this morning while reading through Psalm 79; in particular the last verse which reads:

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13 ESV)

After spending the bulk of the psalm lamenting the destruction, defilement, and humiliation Israel has endured at the hands of the ungodly around them, and then encouraging God to act on behalf of His own reputation as well as His chosen people, this is the verse that closes things out. This verse serves as a reorientation in thinking and a reminder of what they were made to do irrespective of their circumstances.

It was the “we your people” in particular that made the instant connection in my mind (for whatever reason) to the preamble of the constitution. But rather than assuming their national identify (e.g., “we the people of the United States”), the psalmist affirms Israel’s identify of being God’s people, the sheep of His pasture. Rather than asserting the sovereignty of man, the psalmist acknowledges the sovereignty of God. And the motivation and the attitude and action that result, is to give thanks and recount God’s praise forever.

This was a good reminder for me this morning that, as sojourner and an exile in a land that is not my home, my identify is rooted in Christ and is not constrained nor bound by geography. I am not my own. I have been purchased with a price and have been redeemed from slavery to sin and set free to live in humble submission to the Lord.

May we, His people, give thanks to Him forever and may His praise be recounted from generation to generation.

Wake Up to Reality

In Revelation 3 we see the juxtaposition of reputation vs. reality. Christ addresses the Church at Sardis and He doesn’t waste any time and He doesn’t pull any punches when He tells them, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

The church had a reputation that was different than the reality of what Jesus knew to be true. They had a reputation for being alive but based on their works, Jesus knew they were dead.

What I love about the rebuke is that Jesus doesn’t just leave them for dead. He extends mercy and exhorts and encourages them to:

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

Wake up – the church is commanded to be alert, aware and vigilant. Stop coasting and being apathetic. Don’t just go through the motions. Get in the game! Take a look around and acknowledge the reality of the situation.

Strengthen what remains – don’t focus on resurrecting that which is dead but rather tend to, confirm, establish, and strenghten that which remains and is still alive. The word picture that comes to mind is being on the scene of a tradgedy where some have perished and others are injured and in need of care. Before taking care of the bodies of the dead you would first tend to the needs of the injured to keep them alive. Revive the vitality of the church that remains and continue fanning it into flame.

Remember, keep, and repent – an effort to continually call to mind the truth of the gospel. But don’t just remember the gospel, lay hold of it, be posessed by it, and a natural response of repentance will result.

Although this was written to a specific church at a specific time, the lessons and warnings apply to the church of today just as much. May we remain awake and care less about our reputation and more about the truth of the gospel yielding the fruit of repentance that leads to renewed hearts and minds and transformed lives.

A generous & willing heart

After meeting with the Lord and receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses assembled all the congregation of Israel and relayed to them all that the Lord had commanded them to do. This included the request to take a contribution for both the materials and the skilled labor required to build the tabernacle.

“Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: …”
Exodus 35:5

“Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded: …”
Exodus 35:10

A few things that stood out to me as I read through this account in Exodus 35.

  • Proclaim not persuade – sometimes we can be a little too concerned with addressing the entire congregation with a particular message because we know that what we say may only apply to a select few. I like how Moses didn’t seem to worry about that but rather was simply obedient to proclaim God’s message. He broadcasted to all the people and allowed the Spirit to do the work of persuading and encouraging the people to respond.
  • No condemnation – although Moses broadcasted the message to the entire congregation, and in particular to those with a “generous heart”, there was no guilt trip. Those who didn’t feel moved to act were not put on blast and made to feel any less than those who gave. Again, the command and need was made known and it was then the Spirit’s job to work in the hearts of the people.
  • It’s a matter of the heart – and speaking of the Spirit working in the hearts of the people, it really is never about the gift as much as it’s about the heart that motivates the giving.

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart …
Exodus 35:20-22

My prayer is that I would have a willing and generous heart. I pray that my heart is willing and generous because it has a full understanding and appreciation for the fact that it was first loved by God even while it was still sinful. I pray that the Spirit will move me toward generosity and that anything I give will be because I first received it from the Lord. I pray that I will worship the Lord with a full heart.

My 2016 Bible Reading Plan

bible_spurgeon_quoteThe old adage, “If you fail to plan, you are planing to fail” is typically attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Regardless of who originally said it, it is hard to argue with it’s wisdom. In fact, it is wisdom that I apply in my approach to reading my Bible.

For the past 8-years I have followed the ESV Study Bible Reading Plan. I started using it because it was included in the back pages of my study Bible so it was very handy and always accessible. However, even after I stopped using my study Bible in my daily reading, I still used the plan. I simply printed out a copy, folded it in half, and used it as a bookmark.

The thing I enjoyed about this particular reading plan is how balanced it was. Each day’s readings were organized into the following four sections:

  • Psalms and Wisdom Literature
  • Pentateuch and History of Israel
  • Chronicles and Prophets
  • Gospels and Epistles

Following this plan gave me a balanced and healthy diet of both Old and New Testament every day.

But this year I decided to try something different. It’s not that I no longer thought this was a good plan or that I found it lacking in any way. It’s just that I felt like it was becoming too “routine” for me and I wanted to avoid falling into a rut. I wanted to shake things up a bit. And so, in late December, I started looking for a new plan to follow in 2016.

After researching and considering many different reading plans I ended up landing on the Discipleship Journal Book-at-a-Time Reading Plan.

My primary reasons for selecting this plan are:

  • Focus – I was really desiring a plan that would allow me to have a more intensive focus on one book of the Bible at a time. I have to say, thus far I have greatly enjoyed it.
  • Balance – although I’m not in both the OT and NT every day like I was with the ESV Study Bible Reading Plan, my new plan alternates between the two. So, in other words, while I may be focused on reading through Genesis right now, as soon as I finish (which will happen in just a couple days from now) I will begin focusing on reading through the Gospel of Mark and when I finish that I’ll be back in an OT book. I like the fact that it switches back and forth and doesn’t have me waiting until September before I get to touch the NT.
  • Margin – the plan is focused on getting me through the entire Bible in one-year but it still has some margin built into the schedule. Grace is in place. Sprinkled throughout the plan are days off that they call days for “Reflection” but, practically speaking, they can also serve as “catch up” days in case you miss a day’s reading. Regardless of how these days are used, it’s nice to know that this buffer is built into the plan.

This year I am also supplementing my daily time in God’s word with a new (to me, at least) devotional. After I finish my time in God’s word each day I read a daily entry from Voices From The Past – Puritan Devotional Readings. Although I’m only 16-days into the year, I have engaged with this book enough to feel very comfortable commending this resource to you. It has been a blessing to read each day and I am greatly enjoying the exposure to the many puritan authors who are represented in it’s pages.

It’s never too late to get a Bible reading plan in place. In fact, if you are not already following a plan, why not start today?

Patient for the Promise

While reading in Genesis 15-17 this morning there were a couple of themes that caught my attention. One of them is patience.

As I considered all that happened to Abram since I was first introduced to him in chapter 12, it’s difficult to not acknowledge just how much patience was required of him. By the time chapter 15 hits, you get the sense that Abram was perhaps starting to get a little weary. Based on all of the external indications, it wasn’t looking too probable that the Lord’s promise was going to come true.

And so, the omniscient, faithful, sovereign God who made the promises shows up to reinforce them and through His presence and word, encourages Abram enough to persevere and continue believing and trusting.

Sometimes, in the midst of life’s circumstances, we can start to feel weary and maybe even begin to lose hope. We intellectually believe in God and His promises but we’re having a hard time getting our heart to fall in line and actually feel that way.

It is in these times that we need to allow God to speak and remind us of who He is and why we should trust Him. We need to make ourselves available to be encouraged and instructed by His word.We need to humble ourselves in prayer and confess our unbelief. We need to come into the presence of the Holy One and allow Him to be the lifter of our heads that we might realign our gaze from the things of this world and onto things above. That we might fix our eyes on Jesus and be encouraged to continue running the race with perseverance.

The other thing I noticed was in chapter 16 when Sarai said,

“Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”
Genesis 16:2

Again, the promise to Abram was that he would be the father of many and so far, at 99-years of age, he doesn’t have any children and he’s married to a woman who is barren. But the interesting thing that stood out to me here is that Sarai actually acknowledges the reason she is barren is because the LORD has prevented her from bearing children. She sees His hand in it and yet, she attempts to circumvent the LORD’s will by encouraging Abram to take her maidservant as his own. Of course, you don’t have to read much farther to see that the result of her plan is an absolute mess.

We would do well to trust in the Lord, to take Him at His word, to respect His sovereignty, to honor His will, and to accept His timing. For His glory alone.

Steadfast Love

In Psalm 5 David contrasts himself with the wicked. Of the wicked he says,

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
Psalm 5:4–5

Of himself, David acknowledges,

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.
Psalm 5:7

David is not drawing out this contrast to make himself look good. He is acknowledging that it is only through God’s steadfast, covenental love that he is able to enter the presence of the Lord. He also acknowledges that he approaches the Lord in humility and reverence.

Throughout scripture we are reminded that our ability to have relationship with God has nothing to do with our own merits but it is simply a gift of grace. We are able to approach the Lord in confidence not because of anything that we have done but because of who He is and what He has promised.

Our confidence is in Him and Him alone. Let us enter into His presence and worship and bow down.

In Peace

I have purposed that in 2016 I will be more focused and purposeful in my prayer time. Reading Psalm 4 this morning has only served to add fuel to that fire.

The historical setting for this psalm is Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David. Consequently, David finds himself in the middle of political and relational strife not to mention, in danger of physical harm. It is in that context he writes the fourth psalm.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
Psalm 4:1

David has cultivated a life of prayer such that it is a natural response for him to cry out to the Lord when he is in distress. He is motivated by past experiences where he has done so and God has given him relief. At this point, it’s muscle memory. In the midst of life’s storms, David has learned to pursue God in prayer.

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
Psalm 4:4–5

David has also learned to preach to himself and aligns his thinking such that he can rest and trust in the LORD. Rather than given in to his anger and sin, he must be still and know that God is sovereign over all things.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:8

This is my favorite part. What a wonderful thing to be able to lie down and sleep in peace. To have your heart and mind so steadied that you are able to sleep in peace. What a gift. David is able to enjoy this physical rest because he has learned to rest spiritually in the knowledge and confidence that the LORD is sovereign, the LORD is with him, and the LORD will keep him.

Applications for today:

  • Remember – one of the reasons David is so faithful to call out to the LORD is because he remembers past times when the LORD has given him relief from distress. As we take time to reflect on past evidences of the LORD’s faithfulness, we are encouraged to draw near to Him.
  • Reflect – in the midst of trouble, it is wise to still ourselves before God and reflect on what we know to be the truth of God.
  • Rest – finally we can rest in the fact that God is sovereign and mighty to save. Our trust and hope can rest firmly in Him and His all-sufficient grace.

Noah Walked With God

In contrast to the wickedness and evil of the rest of the world, Genesis 6 introduces Noah by saying,

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.
Genesis 6:8-9

What’s interesting to note is that although Noah is described as righteous and blameless, we’re not given any insight into what Noah did that was so righteous and blameless. Those adjectives are not followed by a list of good works that Noah did. We aren’t told what Noah did to earn the titles of “righteous” and “blameless”. What we are told is that Noah “walked with God”.

I don’t typically walk with strangers. In fact, when I think about walking with someone the people who come to mind are my wife and kids. We often go for evening walks together. Sure, we do it to get the dog his exercise but we also do it because we enjoy spending time together and it gives us a chance to connect and talk.

When we’re told that Noah “walked with God” what we’re learning is that Noah enjoyed intimate fellowship with God. He had a relationship with God. He had regular communion with God. He enjoyed God.

But we should’t focus too much on Noah. We shouldn’t get caught in the trap of thinking that Noah was a special person who did special things and if we would just be like Noah, we too can find favor with God. The main point of the passage is not that Noah is good but rather that God is gracious.

When we’re told that Noah found “favor” in the eyes of the LORD, we’re being told that Noah found “grace”. And He didn’t go looking for grace. It was extended to him by the LORD.

In the midst of a wicked and evil world that deserved punishment and condemnation, God decided, in His sovereign will, to show grace to Noah and preserve for Himself a remnant.

A beautiful foreshadowing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mercy in the Garden

The LORD God who created them was very generous in giving them dominion over all of creation. They were placed in an abundant garden and had the freedom and permission to eat of the fruit from any tree they chose as long as it wasn’t the one in the middle of the garden. That was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it was the only one that was off limits. Given that all of the trees in the garden were “pleasant to the sight and good for food”, they probably never paid it much attention until the serpent started talking about it.

In hindsight, her first mistake was listening to the serpent at all. Unfortunately she did and soon the listening drew her attention to the tree. Yes, that tree. The one that was off limits. The more she looked and the more she thought about it, the more her desire for it increased. And then, it was too late. Both she and the man ate the fruit from the tree and their eyes were opened. They tried to cover up their nakedness but it didn’t help the shame they felt and so when they heard the LORD God walking in the garden, they hid.

The first two chapters of Genesis had already revealed how powerful, mighty, creative, generous, and caring God is but here in chapter 3 we also learn how compassionate, forgiving, and just He is as well.

But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
Genesis 3:9

God Pursues Sinners

As man hides in his sin and shame, the LORD God calls out to man. Meditate on that for a while. And then pair it with everything else you know of God as revealed throughout the rest of scripture. We serve a God who calls and seeks and draws and pursues His own.

God is Just

In verses 14-19 we see God’s justice. He punishes and imposes consequences for the serpent, the woman, and the man. Rebellion and disobedience is not tolerated by a holy and just God.

God is Merciful

But we also see God’s grace and mercy displayed.

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
Genesis 3:21

The LORD God provides for the man and woman, even though they had rebelled against Him. Even though they disobeyed, the LORD God restores them, clothes them, and provides a covering for them.

In this one little chapter we see paradise lost. We see the fall of man. Sin and death enter the world. Creation loses intimate fellowship with it’s Creator. Blood is shed. Nakedness and the shame of sin is covered over. And a promise is given.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15

Applications For Today

  • Don’t over-emphasize what you perceive to be God’s prohibitions or restrictions in your life. Rather, focus on the abundance of His provision.
  • Don’t receive God’s commands as burdensome or as merely suggestions to be considered. Learn to delight in them and obey by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Trust that God’s motives and intentions are pure and are focused on His glory. May we learn to rejoice in His glory and desire it over all.
  • When we are convicted of sin, confess to God who is righteous and just to forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness.
  • Rejoice in, and don’t neglect, this great salvation that is promised first here in Genesis 3:15.

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