Praying the Psalms: Psalm 11

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. There are moments in our lives that feel like total chaos. The world seems to be spinning and we seem to be sinking in a whirlpool of hostility. It is in these moments, to which Psalm 11 speaks. This Psalm of David is a meditation in which David is preaching to his own soul in his moment of crises. David reminds himself that God is trustworthy and still on his throne though his life seems so out of control. There is great wisdom in learning to preach to ones wandering heart, and this psalm is an example of David reminding his own soul of God’s power and stability though David feels weak and unstable.

Commentary

v 1–3 - The first stanza of the Psalm describes the perils of David’s crises. He begins in verse one telling himself to take refuge in the Lord. The idea of the Lord being a refuge is a reoccurring theme throughout the psalter. God is a safe house and a shelter in the chaos. He is a safe place and a protection. Though God is a refuge, it is easy for even the faithful to doubt in that divine protective shelter. Sometimes the wind whirls so powerfully, the hail so large, or the monsoon to thick, that we begin to doubt if God protection and refuge will really survive the destructive weather of chaos. David knows his own heart is prone to run away and flee rather than trust in God as shelter. He speaks to his own soul asking what’s the point in such hopelessness. Why flee like a bird to the mountain when the wicked are fitting an arrow directed towards the upright in heart? Though the very foundation of worldly security seem to be destroyed, it is not appropriate to hopelessly declare “What can the righteous do?”

Davids soul is doubting God’s ability to be his refuge. He is despondent heart and trusting in the Lord seems to impractical compared to the whirling tempest of evil that surrounds him. We too can be so very discouraged from taking refuge in God. As we witness the pandemonium and lawlessness that makes up our present age, it is easy for us to think that trusting in God will do us little good. When our souls feel to be in disarray, it is to easy to doubt God’s goodness or his power. Yet, it is in those moments that we need to speak truth to our broken hearts and encourage them with the truth. Though we may be paralyzed by the trouble of the moment we must turn our attention to the truth. This is exactly what David does.

v. 4–7 - This second stanza is David’s mini-sermon to his own heart, reminding himself of God’s character and power. Even though the wicked have David in their cross-hairs, “The LORD is in his holy temple”. God is in his throne and he is ruling and aware of all that is happening. His eyes see. Though God may feel distant or absent from our present trauma, he is very well aware. Yet, he is not only aware but he is on his throne in heaven ruling. God wields complete sovereignty over all that happens. Nothing happens without his ruling hand allowing it to happen. Whatever evil may befall in this life, nothing happens without his sovereign hand allowing it to happen. Though God does not perform evil, it is his sovereign wisdom that allows such things to happen, even to his saints.

Why does God permit such evil to happen, especially to his children? Well David reminds himself that often God permits trails in order to “test the children of man”. God in his goodness often tests the faithfulness of the righteous. This is why James could say, “Count it all, my brothers, when you meet trails of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jm 1:2–3). For the people of God is is a joyous thing to encounter such trails, because through this testing God is sanctifying us and conforming us ever to his image. David’s life is an example here in Psalm 11. This moment of crises, whatever it may be, is forcing him to trust the Lord as his refuge. This trial is growing him but making him more dependent on God. God allows evil things to befall his children, because those evil acts are used by God for his children’s good. The wonderfully wise providence of God uses what others meant for evil to shape his people for their good. We see a specific example of this in the life of Joseph in Genesis.

When it comes to the wicked, God hates the one who loves violence. Those who practice such evil, God is in direct opposition to them. Though God may use the evil of this world and use it for the good of his people, this does not mean that God is pleased by or condones the actions of the wicked. Rather, the sovereign Lord who sits on his throne will bring them to account for their actions. Those who viciously set their eyes on destroying the covenant people of God will face the stern and just anger of the one who sits on his throne in heaven. David understands this and affirms that God will one day rain coals on the wicked. “Fire and sulfur and scorching will shall be the portion of their cup”. This is a direct allusion to the terrible fate of Sodom and Gomorra in which God brought down his stern and ferocious wrath on those cities. In our present moments of crises we must remind ourselves that the wicked who seek our harm will one day receive their due. Though God may not execute his justice immediately in our present circumstances, one day the wicked will receive the portion of their cup.

The final verse affirms that the Lord is on the side of the righteous. He loves those who love him and obey him. Those who are pure in heart will see God. The upright will behold his face in glorious splendor. As we think about this Psalm in the context of the whole canon of Scripture, we are thankful that it is Jesus alone who purchases for us this privilege. God in his incredible mercy used the death of Christ to make us righteous. Though we are all sinners and though we deserve the fire of sulfur upon our heads, Jesus took our cup upon himself. God poured out the cup of his wrath upon his son Jesus on the cross. By grace, God overs us the righteousness of his son Jesus. As we trust in the crucified and resurrected Christ, we have the glorious promise that we too will one day see him face to face. Through Christ we know God and come into a relationship with God. This is the glorious good news of the Gospel.

The message of this psalm is clear enough. When our wandering hearts begin to doubt God’s goodness and power, we must remind ourselves that he is a trustworthy refuge. God is on his throne. He opposes the wicked and will protect the cause of the righteous. When our hearts in desperation say, “What can the righteous do?”, we know the answer. Take refuge in the Lord, because the Lord is in his holy temple.

Prayer Guide

  • What is your crises moment? Share that with the Lord
  • Confess thoughts that demonstrate a lack of trust in God
  • Praise the Lord that he is in control and able to use the evil against you for your good.
  • Thank the Lord that he is on the side of the righteous, and through Christ has made you righteous.
  • Ask God to help you trust in him as your refuge.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 8

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. God is majestic. There is no one like him as he rules with absolute authority as King over the universe. As Psalm 8 begins it calls us into a benediction of praise over the majesty of God. Yet, as the Psalmist writes he not only sings concerning the majestic rule of God but his praise is deepened as he reflects on the majestic rule he has given humanity over creation.

There are many who think of humanity as a parasite upon the world and a cause of ecological disaster. In the eyes of a secular culture, human beings are animals of no greater value than a dog or a gnat. Human dignity and value is under attack continual today and David reminds us in the psalm of praise about the majestic rule of God who sets his loving attention on humanity and exalts humanity above the created order as his special image bearer’s.

Commentary

v. 1 - The psalm is structured using a literary device called an inclusio. The Psalm opens and closes with the same phrase, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” This inclusio functions as a structural bracket wrapping its content in its theme. In the case of Psalm 8, that theme is the majestic name of the LORD.

The beginning of the psalm directs our attention to the object of praise, the LORD himself. Anytime in the OT that you see the word ‘lord” in all capital letters, it signifies that the Hebrew refers to the very personal name of God given to Moses at the burning bush. This name is Yahweh (יְהוָ֤ה). The scribes would not even write this holy name fully out due to its sacredness. This Psalm is addressed to Yahweh who is “our Lord”. This personal pronoun emphasizes that although Yahweh is the Lord over all, he is the personal Lord to David and his people. David praises the majestic name that is above every name. He calls forth in a benediction of praise to the God of Israel.

v. 2 - God rules over all. Out of the mouth of babies and infants refers to Israel herself, God’s chosen people. God by his power has taken a weak and impotent people like Israel and has set them up over the mighty nations of the earth. God has taken that which is weak to shame the strong to prove where true strength really lies, which is not in man’s ability but in the dexterity of God’s omnipotence.

What a theme that recurs through out God’s redemptive story. God has a habit of taking the world’s values and turning them on their head. This is the very essence of the Gospel and at the very heart of our savior Jesus. In Jesus’ weakness and frailty in his crucifixion was used by God conquered to bend his pulsing strength as he conquered sin and death. It was the lowly servant Jesus whom God exalted and gave the name that is above every name (Ph 2).

v. 3–4 - David turns his attentions to thinking about man’s place in God’s world. As David lays on his back on a cool evening on the Judean plain he gazes in the thick darkness, losing himself in the grandeur of the moon and stars. God has created each of these and has put them all in their place. If we need to be reminded of our smallness all we need to do is simply look up on a clear night. The heavenly bodies remind us how tiny we really are in light of the universe.

As we live in the 21st century, certainly our understanding of our smallness is greater than David could ever have imagined. Through telescopes, satellites, and space ships we have discovered that the universe is bigger than we can even imagine. Lightyears engulf the distance between these celestial gaseous bodies. Despite all our advancement and progress we have only increased our own awareness of our smallness.

As David looks up into the sky to look at the stars, he asks a simple but pointed question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Have you ever asked yourself that question? As we gaze upon the billions of stars and the galaxies we have yet to even discover, why would God set his attention on our galaxy in a tiny little planet called earth, and why would he choose to display his glory by loving and redeeming tiny little human beings like us? The God who put in place the expanse of the universe simply by speaking it into existence has set his attention on us. The God who is transcendent over all and who rules over all sets his attention on you and me as the object of his divine love.

Notice that David is left speechless after he asks this questions. Indeed, it is one of the unspeakable mysteries of God. Why did God choose us? Why did he set his attention on me? Why does he love us so? Especially as we consider not just our smallness but our sinfulness! We are wicked people who have rejected God and gone our own way. Rather than worshiping the creator we have worshiped his creation. We are rebels, traitors, and enemies. Yet, the creator God sets his love on us and provides an avenue for our redemption through Jesus.

Why does God do this? Sure we can come up with theological reasons such as to display the glory of God, and certainly that is true — yet God’s mindfulness of us cannot be fully explained. The most humbling truth in the universe is that God is mindful of us and cares for us.

v. 5–8 - Even though man is so small and tiny in the grand scheme of God’s creation, God has given humanity dignity, worth, significance, and dominion. Harkening back to Genesis, David reflects on how every human being is made in the image of God. God has designed humanity to reflect his own glory and praise in our life. In v. 5, David makes an astonishing claim, that God has made human beings just a little lower than God himself. Some translations say “lower than the angels” or “lower than the heavenly beings”. The hebrew text says Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֑ים) which was a generic word for God in hebrew language. The septuagint, the greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures softened the intensity of the language and says, “angels”. We can understand their impulse to do so. Did God really create us just a little lower than himself? That seems like an incredible claim! Yet, I believe that is exactly what David is teaching us here. To be made in the image of God means that we are created so uniquely and so wonderfully that we are given authority and dignity just a little lower than God himself.

God in his majestic rule over the earth delegates his rule to humanity, his vice-regents created in his image. He has “crowned him with glory and honor”. Even though we are low, we are exalted and given prestige and position over God’s creation. God has placed all things under the feet of humanity from sheep to oxen, from birds to fish, all of it is under the dominion of humanity.

This is crucial for us to remember as we live in a world who seems to be more concerned about a starving dog than an aborted human baby. To attack the sanctity of human life is to attack the image of God. Every human being at every stage of development has intrinsic value because they are crafted in the womb as God’s image bearers.

Although every human being has been made in God’s image, due to sin we are broken image bearers. We are mirrors who need to be repaired. God mends us and restores us to our original perfect design through the cross of Christ. Jesus, the new man, exemplifies true humanity. Fully God and fully man, Jesus through his death gives birth to a new people under his headship. Jesus the true Adam, the true Israel, the true David restores us to the glory and honor we were created for as we come to him in faith. God’s love for humanity runs so deep that in his love for us he provided a way for our salvation and redemption. The divine rule of God has exalted humanity and lifted us up to glory.

v. 9 - The inclusio closes as the psalm is bracketed in its primary theme, the majesty of God. Yet, now having reflected on all that God has done in his rule and through exalting humanity, the last verse has a humbling intensity to it. Why would God choose to use the weakest of humanity, the babes and infants of humanity, to make his own? Why would God take small and sinful humans and bestow them with such honor and dignity that he sets his love on us? Why would he delegates to us his divine authority over his creation? Why would God take sinful man and redeem and restore us through Jesus? As we ponder such questions we are left with but one refrain, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Prayer Guide

  • Praise God for his majestic name in how he choose the weak to shame the strong
  • Praise God for the huge and beautiful world he has made
  • Praise God for his attention on you as an object of his care and love.
  • Praise God for how he has exalted you through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace

Redefining Love

There is nothing more beautiful than the love of God.  The love of God is essential to the Christian faith, yet how often we misunderstand this robust, multifaceted love.  DA Carson was right when he calls the doctrine of the love of God “difficult”.  The reason God’s love is so difficult is because it is actually offensive to most westerners who operate with a reductionistic understanding of love.  Love is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot.  We will within the same breath say we love our children and that we also love pizza.  Love is a word that gets tossed around so much that is has largely lost meaning.  The word “love” itself seems to be ambiguously and subjectively defined by the individual.  For someone love might mean a sacrifice, for another it may mean freedom, for others it may mean restrictions and boundaries, for others it may be an emotion or feeling.  Whatever our personal understanding of love, we tend to reduce love to fit our own personal wants and wishes. To make understanding the doctrine of the love of God even more difficult, we fail to recognize how much our cultural presuppositions influence the way we think about love.  Just as one drop of food coloring can transform the whole color of a bowl full of icing, so does our culture comprehensively influence all our thinking.  To be ignorant of the cultural influences that pressure us and surround us will always result in a convoluted mess.  Although we cannot remove all our cultural influences from our thinking, we must seek to remove the cloudy lens of our present day to see the Scriptures clearly.

One of the great challenges is defining terms.  Since love is such a junk drawer term, is it even possible to come up with a definition? Can there be an objective definition of what love is or is it a fluid word that simply adapts to our wishes? Well to give up the possibility of objective definitions is to simply dive into the chaotic emptiness of the postmodern predicament – meaninglessness.  Yet, though we may be confused about love, we know that love is a meaningful word.  It is an important word.  We should not give it up simply because it is complicated to disentangle bad definitions or to correct grievous misunderstandings.

Who defines love? Or perhaps the better question is this, who is the authority that establishes a definition of love? A scripture that is well known and often quoted is 1 John 2:8 “God is love”.  Although we need to understand what John means by “love”, we all know this, love is an essential characteristic and quality of who God is.  It is essential to his being.  So to provide a definition of love we must not look to our culture, but rather to the very character of God.  Yet, what we will find is that the love of God is actually offensive to our modern times.  The love of God, both at the same time, condemns us and redeems us.  It is a love that both forgives us and sanctifies us.

What is Love?

So what is love? What does the Scripture say about how God loves us and thus how we should love one another? Well to do that we must examine the Scriptures and what we will find is that God’s love is God centered.  It is a holy love, an offensive love.  Let’s examines some key Scriptures.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, ESV)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8, ESV)

So it seems from these Scriptures that Salvation is solely an act of God’s grace, which it is.  However, it is easy to read these Scriptures and thinks that God merely just wipes the slate clean.  He merely just looks over our sin and just attaches salvation to us.  From our perspective this is what seems to happen, but from the perspective of God something much bigger (and better) is happening.  In order for God to love us, he must make us holy.

God cannot love sinners as they are an offense to his holiness.  So how does God solve this problem? Well enter Jesus.  The son enters into the world and buys our salvation, absorbing the penalty for sin on the cross.  This way sin is not only paid for, but we receive the righteousness of Christ.  Therefore God imputes the righteous beauty of Christ to his bride the church.  When God gifts us with salvation he is not only wiping our slate clean, but he makes us holy.

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (John 17:1–2, ESV)

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:” (Romans 3:21–22, ESV)

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,” (Hebrews 2:10–11, ESV)

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:8–10, ESV)

So what do we see from these verses? We see that salvation is given to unworthy recipients because of the worthiness of Christ.  God’s great love for his people is founded in His love for his son, Jesus Christ.  God loves those who are in Christ, because he loves the holy righteousness of himself.  As Jonathan Edwards says “All God’s love may be resolved into his love to himself and delight in himself….His love to the creature is only his inclination to glorify himself and communicate himself, and his delight in himself glorified and in himself communicated”.

A Holy, God-Centered Love

In other words, God’s love has a God-centered aim. God’s love has a purpose, an end to which it is trying to achieve.  He saves us and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ so that we might be like Christ.  God so loves the image of His son that he multiplies this in love to those who are saved.  So why does God save us and redeem us? He does so for His own glory.  So that the bride of Christ, the church, might praise him and make much of Him.  As the psalmist writes, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins for your name’s sake!” (Psalm 79:9). See God’s passion for his glory in Romans 15:8-9, “Christ became a servant ... in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy”.

So the love that God has for us is a holy love, a love that is aimed at glorifying God.  It is divinely oriented and motivated.  The cross is the great display of God’s love towards us, but its chief aim is to make much of God.  The glory of God is the chief aim of all creation.

So if the love of God is a God-centered love, it is a holy love.  This means that God cannot love in a salvific way that which is unholy and tainted by sin. For the sinner is the enemy of God, continually attacking and marring the beauty of God’s glory.  But God, zealous to defend, redeem, and manifest His holiness sends Christ to save sinners to the praise of His glorious grace!

The cross then is the great intersection of God’s justice and love.  It is the vindication of his holiness and his gracious compassion on sinners.  For at the cross, God’s wrath is satisfied by the blood of his son, and the holiness of the son, which God so delights in, is given to sinners.  So God loves sinners because they are given the righteousness of the son.  Sinners are justified because they possess the righteousness of Christ.  Because the Father loves his holy, obedient son through Christ’s death he loves us who have received the beautiful holiness of Jesus as our own.

You can see how the love of God is surprisingly offensive. The object of God’s love must be holy.  So God’s love not only offers us the gift of salvation, but it states that something is seriously wrong with us.  In our sin we are by nature children of wrath, and it is only through Christ that we can be saved.  It is only those who are in Christ who become the object of God’s holy redemptive love.  If we are united in Christ by faith we receive the same love that God shares in his perfect son, therefore in order to be loved by God we must receive the righteousness of Christ by faith.  We must confess our sin and unworthiness and by faith receive the worthiness of Christ.

A Definition for Love

So what is a good definition of biblical love modeled from the biblical doctrine of the love of God.  I propose this:

True love delights in affection towards its object, giving of oneself for the other’s good in holiness.

To love is to delight in affection.  There is a rejoicing an delighting in the object.  There is strong emotions and a strong desire for the object of ones love. Yet true love not only delights in affection towards its object, but gives for the other’s good.  In this sense, love is altruistic denying the self for the other.  We see this so clearly in the Scriptures, most clearly in the life of Jesus himself who gave of himself on the cross for our salvation.  Jesus loved us and demonstrated that love by his death.  True love is not so much concerned with being loved but with loving, even at great expense to oneself. If you love someone only because you receive benefits from them, then that isn’t really love, is it? If you love your wife only because she cooks you a hot meal and does your laundry, that’s not love, its selfishness.  You are merely loving your wife because you are getting something out of the deal.  True love denies the self and gives to the good of the other.  True love is not a contract but an act of self denial.  All this is for the good of the recipient.

Now, up to this point in our definition few people would have any sort of problem with it.  However the question is this – what is the other persons ultimate good? Here is where the Christian definition of love takes a different turn from the worlds.  True love has at its aim the holiness of the other person.  To reflect God His glory in holiness is the greatest good we can do for one another.  True love does not seek its own good, but another’s. So to love one another means we seek to encourage each other towards holiness.

An Example from Marriage

We can see this in Paul’s teaching on marriage.  In Ephesians 5:25 he charges husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.  So he charges the husband to this affectionate altruistic love for the good of the wife.  So husbands are to love in a posture of self-denial seeking the ultimate good of his wife.  Now what is that good that true love seeks? Paul tells us in verse 26-27, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”.

Did you catch it? True love seeks the good of the other which is holiness.  Seeking to sanctify the other is the greatest demonstration of love.  Just as Christ laid down his life on the cross, he did this so that he could present the church perfectly holy and without blemish.  The good true love seeks to accomplish in its object is beautification in holiness.  This not only applies to the relationship of marriage, but within the relationship of the church.

We are to be continually building each other up in maturity to holiness.  We love each other as God has loved us, by making one another holy.  You can see this as we begin to think about our relationship towards one another.  To love you as a member of this church does not mean that I allow you to be in sin and not say a word.  To be silent is not to be loving but to be selfish.  What keeps us from addressing one another in our sin with love? Do we find that we would rather just not handle the conflict and get our hands dirty?  Are we friend of damaging our reputation of or are we fearful that this person may hate us after speaking truth? Does our fear of man hinder our ability to truly love one another?

Redefining Love

When we derive our definition of love from the love that God has for us as revealed in the Scriptures, it is far more beautiful than our modern redefinitions of the word.  Love is more than tolerance and it is more than acceptance. Love is a zealously affectionate desire to sanctify, which is the greatest good we can do to another.  Understanding this way changes the way we think about social engagement, marriage and family, and even church membership.  May our understanding of love flow from the great fount of love, the heart of our redeeming God.

A Fireplace, a Baby, and a Restraining Embrace

At our house we have the joy of having a real wood burning fireplace. There is something about a fireplace that just sets a cozy atmosphere. Sitting on well-worn couch, drinking a strong cup of coffee, reading a good book while feeling the ambient warmth of the fire is the definition of relaxation. And no matter how fancy they may be, a gas fireplace just can't quite recreate the experience of a real wood burning fire-place. Since my wife and I enjoy using our fireplace so much we started early this year on a cool fall night. This was our first fire of the year and the first fire since we welcomed our little boy Jude into the world. Know at 8 months he is crawling and trying to get into everything. He is so inquisitive and wants to experience through his senses everything he can. He wants to touch and he wants to taste. As a result the roaring fireplace captivated his attention. He would fight and fight to get a closer look. To satisfy his curiosity I took him, held him in my lap, and we sat on the floor right in front of the fire.

As he felt the warmth radiating from that fireplace he became less than satisfied with just sitting in my lap. He fought with all his strength to leave my embrace to go and touch the fire. You see my little boy wanted to experience the fire in a way that would be harmful and dangerous to him. Rather than enjoying the fireplace in the way it was intended, he wanted to experience the fire in a way that would be harmful to him. Without my restraining arm, he would have very well gotten into that fire and would have been extremely burned. Yet Jude did not realize that my restraining embrace was not to keep him from joy but to keep him from harm. In love I did not allow him to go into the fire, despite all his squirming and groaning.

You know many of us think just like my son Jude when we begin to think about God and his law. God has given us good gifts to enjoy yet we often use those gifts in a harmful way that God never intended us to do. We take the gift of sex, and rather than using it the way God intended within the covenant of marriage, in the name of sexual liberation and autonomy we divorce our sexuality from marriage. We take the gift of food, and rather than enjoying a wonderful meal we gorge ourself and become gluttons, whose god is their stomachs.

Yet we see God's law and the morality he defines for us is not keeping us from joy but is actually protecting us from sin. Just as my grip around my son was protecting him from misusing the gift of fire, so God's law protects us from turning good gifts into idols. When it comes to the way the world operates, God has a plan and a purpose to the way the world works. When it comes to family, sexuality, money, honesty, and worship, God is not trying to keep us from pleasure, he is trying to keep us from getting burn. His commands are a gift to us and the word of a father who loves his children.

Although Jude did not understand why I wouldn't let him go into the fire, as his Dad I was protecting him. God does this for us by giving us his word to instruct us how to live. So look at the commands of God not as a opressive dictator but as a loving father. When we enjoy the gifts of this world the way God ended, then the warmth of a cozy fire is a great gift not a harmful burn.

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

Did Jesus every say he was God? For some reason many people state that Jesus never made the claim. A simple reading through the Gospels makes it clear that Jesus did in fact claim he was God on several occasions. One of the most startling takes place in John 8. John records a debate with Jesus and the religious leaders. Towards the end of debate we are told the following:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” so the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.“ - John 8:56-59

I am amazed at the boldness of Jesus. After a vicious debate with the religious leaders, Jesus makes the most startling claim. He says he is God. The full weight of this is often missed if one does not have a good understanding of the Old Testament. Notice that Jesus does not say that 'before Abraham was, I was. He uses the present tense, "I am". Jesus not only declares his pre-existence, but actually takes the sacred name of God onto himself. Yahweh, or I am, is the name God used to reveal himself to Moses in the burning bush. Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. He is the one true God. He is the God the religious leaders claim to be following. Yet, Jesus in this passage declares that he is greater than Abraham and the great I Am that brought the Jewish people out of Egypt.

This is absolutely astonishing. The Religious leaders were blown away at such a blasphemous statement. Their religious zeal and passion for right doctrine filled their hearts with righteous exasperation. This man, Jesus, standing before them claimed that he was the God in whom they worship. The bastard carpenter from Nazareth (so they thought) claims he is the one true God. The religious leader's anger quickly bubbles into a murderous mob. We are told that after Jesus said this, that the jews began to pick up stones to kill him. They were going to give him a death by stoning, but Jesus' time had not yet come so he was able to sneak out. How do we know that Jesus claimed to be God in this passage? The response of the leaders is revealing enough. They were going to kill him on the spot for such a blasphemous claim.

Also, notice where this whole conversation is taking place. Jesus is departing from the Temple, we are told. This conversation is happening in the house of God. These religious leaders were ready to commit murder in the temple of the Lord because of what Jesus said. This is truly astonishing, and reveals how offensive Jesus calling himself the great "I Am" is to the hearts of these religious leaders. They had been so blinded by their self-righteousness that they were unable to see, yet even unwilling to see, the Messiah standing before him. The God whom they claim to worship was standing before them, yet they did not recognize him. Rather, they seek to kill him in the Temple of the Lord. The Jews picked up stones to murder Yahweh in his own house.

Did Jesus ever say he was God? You better believe it. He claimed it. That's how he got himself killed. That's why the religious leaders were so eager to kill him. Jesus' perceived blasphemy along with the Religious leader's envy of Jesus brewed the perfect concoction for Jesus' brutal execution.

One cannot accurately say that Jesus never claimed to be God. This puts us in the trilema that C.S. Lewis gives us in his work Mere Christianity:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

Jesus claimed to be God. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the son of God. Jesus is the great "I Am". He is the one God who took on flesh and dwelt among us. He is Lord and he is King and he has made a way for us to be saved through his death on the cross. Trust in him as savior and king.

Am I Beyond Repair? - Our Holiness in Christ

2515800654 bd1562ae72 o Have you ever thought that you were beyond repair?  Have you felt like you have so many problems, that there is no hope for you?  I think many of us tend to feel this way so you are no stranger.  The good news is that there is a God who has not given up on you.  There is a God who can take your broken sinful life and make you holy and blameless.

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians church, Paul makes a starling claim about the church in the first few verses.  Here is how he greets them:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus…

Notice that verb in that greeting - "to those sanctified".  In the Greek, that word "sanctified" is passive and in the perfect tense.  The perfect tense was a tense to describe an action that has already been completed.  Passive means that the action is being done to the Corinthians.  So when Paul greets them, he greets them as those who have already been made holy.  Now, if you have ever read 1 Corinthians, you know just how astonishing that statement is.  The church at Corinth didn't seem to be a very holy church.  Here are a few of the issue Paul addresses in this letter:

  • There were fighting over who to follow (Ch. 3)
  • A guy was sleeping with his step-mom (Ch. 5)
  • The church was suing one another (Ch. 6)
  • There were marriage problems (Ch. 7)
  • Some were worshiping idols and practicing pagan religious rituals (Ch. 10)
  • There was gender role confusion & women were dressing immodestly (Ch. 11)
  • They were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper (Ch. 11)
  • They were fighting over which spiritual gift was better (Ch. 12)
  • They had disorderly worship services (Ch. 14)
  • Some were denying the resurrection (Ch. 15)
A quick glance through that list will tell you one thing.  This church had issues.  They seem to be anything but holy, yet Paul greets them as saints.  How can this be?
The answer lies in the good news of the Gospel.  For those who are in Christ, we are given the righteousness of Christ.  We are declared holy and pure before God because of Jesus.  Jesus went to the cross and paid the price for our sins on the cross.  Through the cross, God has declared his people holy and blameless.  Although the church at Corinth has some major sin in its midst, Paul still addresses them as holy, because they have been made holy through Christ!

This has huge implications for you and me.  You see, our holiness is simply the outworking of who we are.  In Christ, we are holy.  So when the Scriptures call us to live lives of holiness, it commands us to be who we already are.  Our personal holiness is the outworking of who God has already declared us to be in Christ!  Even though we might feel like we are beyond repair, God in Christ has already made us holy.  Our salvation and imputed righteousness is secured through the blood of the lamb!  Be holy, because that is who you are.  That is what Christ has made you to be.

So are you beyond repair? If you are in Christ you have already been repaired through the cross.  Live your life now in obedience and holiness in joyful thanksgiving to Jesus.

How is God making you holy? How does the Gospel encourage you to be holy? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

5 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Can be Dangerous

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As a Student Pastor, I've spent a lot of time reading, studying, and doing youth ministry.  I've been doing this for several years now.  While I have been in the trenches of youth ministry, I have seen some huge potential dangerous in the youth ministry culture in America.  These dangers are real dangers that might even be found in your youth group.  To be honest, I see some of these dangers in my own.  Take an honest look  at five reasons why youth ministry can be dangerous:

1. Youth Ministry can cause Parents to Outsource Discipleship to Paid Professionals

Discipleship is first and foremost the responsibility of Christian Moms and Dads.  Youth Ministry, originally created to be an evangelistic outreach to non-Christian teens has quickly become the new norm for discipling teens of Christian parents in the church.  Many Parents have the idea that if I just send my kid to youth group, then I am doing my job as a Christian parent.  However, nothing could be further than the truth.  The one who God will hold for the discipleship of your child is you.  God will hold Dads and Moms accountable for how they disciple their children. We have created a culture in our churches where we outsource discipleship to paid "Youth Ministry Professionals" and let them do all the work in discipling our children.  The only problem with that is the Bible.  You can't delegate discipling your teens to someone else, when it is God who expects you to do it. 

Many Youth Ministries try to disciple students without the involvement of the parents.  In fact, I have heard some youth pastors claim that parental involvement is a bad thing.  More than ever youth pastors need to see themselves as "Family Pastors" not "Youth Pastors".  A Youth Pastor must aim to disciple the whole family, not just the students.  Youth Ministries should aim to train parents to disciple their children for the glory of God.  Youth Pastor, if you are going to create lasting disciples, you need Godly parents who have been trained to take the lead on discipleship, and not just outsource it to you.

2. Youth Ministry can be a breading ground for Moralism devoid of the Gospel

Moralism is a constant danger in youth and children's ministries.  Many students leave well intentioned churches and youth ministries burned out on moralism.  They have heard the list of dos and don'ts and they are tired of it.  They've been taught not to have sex, not to get drunk, and not to lie, cheat, or steal.  They have been taught moralism without grace.  They have been taught Law without the Gospel. More than ever, we need youth ministries and youth pastors who will preach the Gospel into the lives of their students.  Students need to hear the Gospel and need Godly leaders who can help apply its truth to their lives.  Youth Pastors much always teach holiness, but it must always be understood in response to the Gospel, not in the place of it.  

3. Youth Ministry can Disconnect Students from the Rest of the Body

I love Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians 12 when he talks about the body of Christ.  Did you ever notice how many bodies Paul talks about in this passage?  Are their two?  Nope, just one.  A local church is one body, not two, not three, not four.  One of the greatest dangers of age segregated ministry, including youth ministry, is that we unhealthily divide the local church into multiple bodies of Christ.  A tendency in Youth Ministry is to alienate the students from the rest of the church.  As a youth ministries we have our own room, our own building, and our own services.  I've seen many youth ministries operate like a separate church within a church.  This is a unhealthy and Biblical way to do youth ministry.  As the body of Christ, we need each other, and this means we need a multi-generational approach to ministry.  

I love the ministry that is described in Titus 2. Older men are discipling younger men.  Older Woman are discipling younger women.  If we want Titus 2 to happen in our congregation than we must tear down this wall of division between youth ministry and the rest of the church.  Rather than creating a separate youth sub culture within our church, why not be the bridge to bring all generations together for the health of the body and for the advancement of the Gospel.  

4. Youth Ministry can become a "Safe Alternative" rather than Missional Training  

Youth Ministry becomes a "safe alternative" for students.  Rather than teaching students how to missionary engage with the world, we encourage them to leave their busy schedules and pick up the busy schedule of youth ministry.  However, busyness doesn't necessarily mean godliness.  Many youth ministries have activities that compete The authors from the book Creature of the Word write this about youth ministry:

All three of us serves in student ministry at one point in our ministries; therefore, we know that many churches put pressure on student leaders and ministries to "keep the kids busy" with a myriad of programs, events, and activities.  The motivation is to provide constant alternatives for students so that they are helped in avoiding the trappings of the world.  But busyness is not next to godliness.  Students don't need their social calendars planned; they need their hearts continually transformed. (pg.148) 

They would later write, "when the focus becomes the events or the activities rather than Jesus, the only thing that is changed is the calendar."  So often this turns into an entertainment model of ministry, devoid of the transforming power of the Gospel.  So often the trip to the theme park or the concert or the bowling ally become the focus of the youth ministry rather than the Gospel.  Youth Pastors  and ministries must see themselves as Gospel equippers not just alternative safe entertainment for teens.  

5. Youth Ministry has Proven Inconsistent at Making Long Term Disciples of Jesus

One of the great critiques of Youth Ministry the past few decades is that Youth Ministry has failed in producing long term disciples of Jesus.  Statistically, this has proven true time and time again.  This indicates that something about the current direction of youth ministry is failing in its purpose to produce disciples.  I believe some of these dangers listed in this blog are a reason why youth ministry is floundering in producing life long disciples of Jesus.  Many other leaders in Youth Ministry are beginning to recognize that as well.  Wayne Rice, one of the founding members of Youth Specialties said this:

We got what we wanted.  We turned youth ministry into the toy department of the church.  Churches now hire professionals to lead youth ministry.  We go relevance but we created a generation of teenagers who are a mile wide and are an inch deep. (Cited)

In Youth Ministry we need are renewed focus on teaching our students the entirety of the Scriptures.  We need to give them the Gospel first and foremost.  Although Youth Ministry does have some potentially dangerous problems, I still believe that it can be used powerfully to disciple and train students.  As a fellow Youth Pastor, I have seen some these dangerous even in my own youth group.  However, we must remember that because we love these students, sometimes we must give them what they need and not what they want.  What they need more than anything is the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Let's proclaim it to them!

What are some dangers that you have seen in youth ministry? How can we correct these dangers in the life of our churches?  Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Top Quotes from Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

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JI Packer's Book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a incredible work that takes on the perceived tension between Calvinism and Evangelistic urgency.  Packer proves that the two are not enemies but friends.  He argues that a robust, Biblical, understanding of the sovereignty of God rightly fuels evangelistic effort and provides hope and boldness to the evangelist.  It is an incredible work, brief and to the point.  If you have wrestled with God's Sovereignty and Evangelism (and who hasn't) be sure to give this book a read.  It is well worth your time.  Here were some top quotes I picked out in my reading to give you a taste of what this book has to offer you.  You can pick up the book at Amazon Here.

There is abroad today a widespread suspicion that a robust faith in the absolute sovereignty of God is bound to undermine any adequate sense of human responsibility. Such a faith is thought to be dangerous to spiritual health, because it breeds a habit of complacent inertia. In particular, it is thought to paralyze evangelism by robbing one both of the motive to evangelize and of the message to evangelize with.

I shall try to show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God's government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks. So far from being weakened by this faith, therefore, evangelism will inevitably be weak and lack

The desire to oversimplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good people should fall victim to it.

We must not at any stage forget that. For if we forget that it is God's prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize.

And the point that we must see is this: only by letting our knowledge of God's sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in his service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault. For where we are not consciously relying on God, there we shall inevitably be found relying on ourselves. And the spirit of self-reliance is a blight on evangelism.

He who does not devote himself to evangelism in every way that he can is not, therefore, playing the part of a good and faithful servant of Jesus Christ.

In other words, evangelism is the issuing of a call to turn, as well as to trust; it is the delivering, not merely of a divine invitation to receive a Savior, but of a divine command to repent of sin.

The results of preaching depend, not on the wishes and intentions of men, but on the will of God Almighty

We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of his total demand on our lives. What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself and your failures and your inadequacy to meet life's demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, cheer him up and make him feel confident again.

In our own presentation of Christ's gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness. In common honesty, we must not conceal the fact that free forgiveness, in one sense, will cost everything; or else our evangelizing becomes a sort of confidence trick.

It is a tragic and ugly thing when Christians lack desire, and are actually reluctant, to share the precious knowledge that they have with others whose need of it is just as great as their own. It was natural for Andrew, when he found the Messiah, to go off and tell his brother Simon, and for Philip to hurry to break the good news to his friend Nathanael (Jn 1:40ff.). They did not need to be told to do this; they did it naturally and spontaneously, just as one would naturally and spontaneously share with one's family and friends any other piece of news that vitally affected them. There is something very wrong with us if we do not ourselves find it natural to act in this way: let us be quite clear about that.

We should not be held back by the thought that if they are not elect, they will not believe us, and our efforts to convert them will fail. That is true; but it is none of our business and should make no difference to our action.

Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.

Paul's confidence should be our confidence too. We may not trust in our methods of personal dealing or running evangelistic services, however excellent we may think them. There is no magic in methods, not even in theologically impeccable methods. When we evangelize, our trust must be in God who raises the dead.

God can make his truth triumphant to the conversion of the most seemingly hardened unbeliever. You and I will never write off anyone as hopeless and beyond the reach of God if we believe in the sovereignty of his grace.

5 Ways to Have a Christ-Centered Christmas

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Don't have a Christ-less Christmas. As Christians we must keep Jesus in the center of everything we do. In our increasingly consumerism-driven understanding of Christmas, we must fight the current of culture and commit to making much of Jesus during this time. However, you might ask yourself the question? How do I have a Christ-Centered Christmas? Well here are five extremely practical ways you can lift up the name of Jesus this Christmas:

1. Go to a Christmas Eve Service

Christmas Eve Services are awesome. They are always one of my favorite church services of the year. Make it a priority to take your family to one this Christmas. If you are out of town visiting family, find a local church and visit them for their Christmas eve service. It is a great way to usher your heart and soul into worship before Christmas day by praising our gracious God who put on flesh for you and for me.

2. Invite a neighbor over for Christmas Dinner

One of the ways we can honor Christ is by reaching out to those around us. As Christians we are ambassadors for Christ, and what a better time to be an ambassador than at Christmas time? Schedule a night to have that family down the street over for dinner. Share with them about who Jesus is and why God sent him for us. Share the Gospel with them. Not only does it honor Christ at Christmas, but it spread the Gospel to those who so desperately need to hear it!

3. Read the Christmas Story Together as a Family

As a family, sit down and read the Birth Narrative of Jesus in Luke 1-2. It is a great time to spend some time in the Scriptures and foster family worship. I know many families that will do this first thing on Christmas morning, before opening presents and before the busyness of the day. The family will gather by the tree and Pastor Dad will lead the family in scripture reading and prayer. Dads, make a priority to start this tradition with your family. It is a great way to disciple your children and keep Christ in the center of your home.

4. Skip the Gift Exchange this Year

What? Are you serious? Skip the gift exchange? I know, I know. That is exactly what you are thinking. There is nothing wrong or sinful about giving gifts to one another at Christmas time, however I think everyone can admit that it does distract us from honoring Christ. So often the thing that Christmas Day centers on is the getting of stuff. It is a travesty and poison that American Marketers have been telling us for decades. How about one year, maybe this year, you take a fast from the gift giving as a family? Maybe take the money that you would spend on Christmas Gifts and give it away? This is something I have been praying about in my own family. Kaitlyn and I are not planning on doing much gift exchanging this year with one another, but we want to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which goes to fund and support all of our Southern Baptist Missionaries over seas. Maybe we should do something a little radical this Christmas and be counter cultural for the name of Jesus.

5. Volunteer and Serve Others

At this Christmas time, why not keep Christ at the center by serving others? After all, "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Imitate your savior this Christmas and honor him by giving of your time to serve other people. Get your eyes off of yourself and onto this dying world who needs you to show them Christ with your words and your actions.

Christmas is busy. It is so easy to get distracted by the next Christmas party you have to attend or the next Christmas show you need to watch. Don't let the busyness of Christmas distract you from keeping Christ at the center of your life and your worship. As Christians we must keep Christ the center of our lives in every season, not just in December, but this Christmas may we seek to lift high the name of Jesus for the whole world to see! The King has come. The savior is born. What great and glorious news!

What are some ways your family keeps Christ at the center of Christmas? Share with us in the comments!

God Enters His Story

The history of the world is one big story. It is the story of the creator God who made heaven and earth. The creator made his world perfect. It was an exuberant display of his magnificence and his glory. The creator looked over his creation and called it good, and created man kind as the crown jewel of his creation. He commanded humanity to rule over creation, to fill the earth and subdue it.

However, humanity rebelled. Rather than worshiping and serving the Creator God, they decided to worship and serve creation. The righteous and good God's authority was subverted, mocked, and replaced. However, rather than wiping out the human race, God made a plan to redeem humanity and restore His creation. He decided to do this by entering into His world. God put on human flesh and became a man. God became one of us and walked among us.

You see, this is the miracle of Christmas. It is more glorious than trees filled with presents or a jolly fat man. The miracle of Christmas is the incarnation.  The greatest gift you will ever receive will not be found beneath a tree, but the God-man hanging on a tree. You see, God entered his world for a purpose. He entered so that you and I would become the righteousness of God. He came to restore all that has gone wrong with this world. He came to pay the price for sin. He came to give hope in a hopeless world. He came to bring light into our mirky darkness.

God became a man. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. God is with us. God is for us. Immanuel is here. Praise God that he would enter his creation to save you and me!