My Birthday Prayer

Today is my birthday and each year makes me thankful for the past year and encouraged for the next year.  Since it is my birthday I thought I would share one of the prayers I prayed from the Valley of Vision.  It is a fitting prayer as I mark another year of life.

Year’s End

O LOVE BEYOND COMPARE, Thou art good when thou givest, when thou takest away, when the sun shines upon me, when night gathers over me. Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world, and in love didst redeem my soul; Thou dost love me still, in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust. Thy goodness has been with me another year, leading me through a twisting wilderness, in retreat helping me to advance, when beaten back making sure headway. Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead; I hoist sail and draw up anchor, With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past. I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead. If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation, thou wilt be with me in them; If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and tempation, I shall not drown; If I am to die, I shall see thy face the sooner; If a painful end is to be my lot, grant me grace that my faith fail not; If I am to be cast aside from the service I love, I can make no stipulation; Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial, as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.

–From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 111.

How Can I Have Joy in Difficult Circumstances?

Are you in a situation you'd rather not be in? Have you been given a hand by God and you'd rather just fold and give up? There are always situations that God puts us that are not how we want them to be. We question.

We get angry.

We doubt God's goodness.

Needless to say we have terrible attitudes and we often begin to find our wicked hearts rebuking God.

This is why Paul's attitude in the book of Philippians never ceases to amaze me. Paul is writing this letter in prison, yet it is one of his warmest and joyous letters he ever wrote. I'm not sure what situation you find yourself right now, but I doubt you are in chains being guarded by a burly Roman guard.

So what is Paul's secret?

What does he know that we need know?

What is he believing that we are not?

Well as we begin to look through the letter of Philippians, we begin to see why Paul is so joyous despite his circumstances. Here are three ways you can face whatever situation with joy.

1. Make Jesus Your Chief Treasure

Paul loved Jesus. Not only did Paul love Jesus, he counted all his worldly accolades and his prestigious reputation as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ (Phil 3:8). If Paul's whole life could be compared to a shelf, Jesus was not just an item on the shelf of Paul's life. Jesus is the shelf itself. Paul had a laser focus on Jesus, and ultimately nothing else mattered as long as he had Jesus.

When Jesus is all you live for, you will be surprised what you can live without. There is not cost to high, no persecution to great, and no suffering to overwhelming when Jesus is your treasure.

In fact the great irony is that it through those difficulties that the ecstatic joys of Christ increase. Just like a fine wine cleanses the palate and accentuates the flavor of the meal, so does suffering accentuate the depths of our knowledge of Christ. This is why Paul longs "I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (3:10). Paul wants to experience the joy of the resurrection of Christ and he knows that that joy comes through suffering.

Paul saw his chains not as obstacles to his joy but as catalysts. When you begin to see your trails not as obstacles in the way of your joy, but pathways to deeper joy there is nothing that life can throw at you that wills shake you.  The obstacles we fear become tools in God's hand for our joy and His glory.

2. Live Believing Dying is Gain.

Because Christ was Paul's chief treasure, he had a reckless fearlessness concerning his own life. Paul's chief concern is the glory of Christ and knows that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by life or by death (1:20). This is why Paul could say so boldly and confidently "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (1:21).

Can you imagine that sort of freedom? Though Paul was chained to the imperial guard he was the freest man in the room. What could they do to him? If they keep him alive, he was going to live for Christ. If they kill him, great! He gets to be with his savior.

Christians should be the most fearless people on the planet. Because Christ has redeemed and set us free from the condemnation of our sin, the penalty of death is removed. There is no condemnation for those in Jesus (Rom 8:1). Therefore death is not a horrific, tragic end but a beautiful, new beginning. Paul, with Christ as his chief treasure, got this. Do you?

This is why he could go on to be content whatever the circumstances (see Chapter 4). Whether his stomach is filled or he hasn't eaten for days, Paul says he is content. Why? Because he is a man living for eternity. He is a man with his eye on the prize. He is a man striving for Christ and there is nothing on earth that can get in the way of his pursuit. He is running the race and pressing on to cross the finish line of death and receive his prize–his treasure, Jesus.

Do you live with such laser focus on Christ? Are you living as if dying is gain? Do you see the world through the lens of eternity? If so, there is no situation of your life that can still your joy.

3. See Your Hardships as Opportunities

I love Paul, because the man is sitting in prison and in chains. Though Paul is bound, the Gospel is not. In fact, it is spreading ever the more rapidly while Paul sits in his cell. Paul tells the church,

"I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers having become more confident in the Lord by my imprisonment are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (1:12-14).

Isn't that amazing? When Paul gets locked up he doesn't throw a pity party. He doesn't say, "Ok God, I'm not sharing the Gospel with anyone until you get me out of here. I don't deserve this!" Nor does he say, "If God really cared about me he wouldn't have let me get arrested". No! Paul with Christ as his treasure continues to proclaim the Gospel to the audience the Lord has given–the prison guards. Even in his imprisonment, the Gospel was going forth and God was converting the guards. Not only that, but the Christians in the city are being stirred to evangelism through the example that Paul is setting. Rather than seeing his imprisonment as an affliction, he saw it as an opportunity to boldly proclaim Christ.

You're Right Where You Need to Be

I'm not sure what sort of situation you have found yourself. Maybe it is not ideal. Maybe it is not what you wanted. Maybe you are frustrated and burned out. Learn from the apostle Paul's example. Live with Christ as your treasure. Live knowing dying is gain. Live looking for opportunities to proclaim Christ. As you do you might just be surprised that this difficult place the Lord has placed you is right where he needs you to be.

The Most Discouraging and Encouraging Sermon Ever

We at Forest Hills Baptist Church have been journeying together through the Sermon on the Mount. The journey has been glorious so far, but difficult.  The demands of the kingdom are steep. Martyn-Lloyd Jones has preached through the Sermon on the Mount and has been my companion as I have read through his sermons on the text to glean understanding, insight, and application. He writes this about the sermon on the mount:

Have we not felt that as we have been working our way through this Sermon? Is there anything known to us that is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Take these passages from verse 17 to the end of this fifth chapter – these detailed illustrations given by our Lord as to how we are to live. Commandments, the ordinary moral standards of decency, are difficult enough; but look at these statements about not even looking with lys, about going the second mile and throwing in the cloak together with the coat, and so on. There is nothing more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount; it seems to throw us right out, and to damn our every effort before we have started. It seems utterly impossible. But at the same time do we know of anything more encouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Do we know of anything that pays us a greater compliment? The very fact that we are commanded to do these things carries with it an implicit assertion that it is possible. This is what we are supposed to be doing; and there is a suggestion, therefore, that this is what we can do. It is discouraging and encouraging at the same time.

Lloyd-Jones would want me to be sure to remind you that the only hope we have for doing these things in the sermon on the mount is through the supernatural rebirth.  The natural man is unable to love his enemy or turn the other check. Yet, for Christians although the Sermon on the Mount condemns us it provides us with a encouraging reminder that through the power of God's Spirit we can do these things through God's grace. Jesus is not giving us commands in these passages that we are unable to obey. Jesus not only gives his followers commands but the power to obey them. He is the one who gives us new hearts with new desires and affections. He is the one who empowers us to obey not only the letter of the Law but its Spirit.

If we are to understand this sermon rightly, we must read it in the tension of discouragement and encouragement. The sermon condemns us and yet reminds us of the empowering, transforming grace of God. The sermon brings the poor in Spirit to a posture of mourning, but they will be comforted and they will be filled with the righteousness of Christ.

If interested you can check out my sermon audio through the Sermon on the Mount here. Plus you can subscribe to the Forest Hills Baptist Church Audio Podcast in iTunes.

A Personal Prayer

I don't typically publish my private prayers. I normally seek to pray in secret. I never want prayer to be a means of gaining personal attention. Yet I know that there is great benefit for the church in learning from how others pray.  A huge encouragement to me is to read the prayers of other people. I typically write out my personal prayers because I do not have the mental self-control to pray silently. What follows is a personal prayer I wrote last week. Its purpose is to help encourage you in your prayer life.  Refresh my soul my Lord. Cleanse me from hidden sin. Cleanse me from my known sin. Purify my heart by the power of your grace. How quick I am to wander from my true love! How hastily I abandon the pleasures of your eternal presence for the temporal things of earth. What wretched sinner I am and how undeserving of grace. Break my heart my God for my transgressions. May I see my sin as you do, as the horrific blackness that nailed my savior to that cross!

Make me a realist Lord to see my shortcomings as they are. In the dreaded chasm of despair may you lift me up to see the  offer of grace. Lift me up from the pit so I may look at the savior and live! May I sit at his feet both now and into eternity relishing in his wisdom, his love, his compassion, and his generosity. How poor in Spirit I am when left in my sin. But how rich I have become as you pour out your blessing and seal me with the inheritance of Christ!

In my ministry never let my zeal be sacrificed on the alter of the familiar. Never let me become so understanding of grace that I become numb to its beauty. I have the extreme treasure of spending my life’s work gazing at the intricately cut diamond called the Gospel. It is my joyous labor to examine, inspect, and discover new levels of beauty to share with others. Although I handle the Gospel so frequently, do not let me become so familiar that I cease to be in awe! Deepen my love. Increase my delight as my knowledge and experience of these truths accumulates over the years.

Protect me from my sinful eyes that takes the sparkling treasures of heaven and begin to ignore the blinding glimmer of grace. As I preach and proclaim this Gospel to the lost and to your church may my passion for this truth be ever increasing. May I not just be imparting knowledge but may it be evident that I rejoice over the truths I am proclaiming!

Create a pure heart in me, my Lord. Overcome my weakness and my stubborn heart. Thank you for turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh. May my heart ever beat in sync to the rhythm of you grace as I live for the glory of Christ.

News that Never Gets Old

As a pastor it is my privilege to spend my days meditating, pondering, and applying the Gospel to my life and the life of others. The message of the Gospel is relatively simple:

  • You are a sinner deserving of condemnation.
  • God has sent a savior, Jesus, who bore your punishment on the cross.
  • Jesus conquered your sin and death and is the risen King
  • Put your faith in Jesus for salvation

Yet this simple truth has transformed my life. The wonderful life-giving power of the Gospel never ceases to amaze me and I am in continue wonder that I have the privilege and honor of proclaiming this wonderful good news. You do not graduate from the Gospel, but continue to increase into new degrees of understanding of this simple, glorious truth.

Often many of us do not treasure the Gospel but assume the Gospel. We cease to find our joy and satisfaction in Christ and drift to lesser things. Sometimes I do not think we understand the implications of the Gospel we claim to believe.

One of my favorite musicians is a guy named Matt Papa. He is a songwriter and wrote a powerfully perceptive song called "This Changes Everything". He sings:

I grew up in a little town Used to sing in the old church house There in the pew where I used to hide Learned the story bout the man who died Well I was sure I heard that He got back up But as we broke the bread and drank the cup Seemed the faces told another tale They were as dry as the bread was stale

Did i miss something? Was i not supposed to cry? Did they hear preacher, "Jesus is alive"?

If this is true, this changes everything If this is real, I've got to tell the world If He is God, then I've got choice to make If I believe, then I must follow Him

If the Gospel is true, if Jesus really is alive then this does change everything. Our stale, emotionless countenance reveals something about our hearts. Rather than treasuring the Gospel we've assumed it.

The good news we believe about Jesus transforms our lives. If Jesus is alive then this changes everything. When we understand the transforming power of God's grace, the Gospel will never grow stale but grow in wonder as we stand in unhindered worship rejoicing over our Savior!