Note to Self: Read (God’s Word)

Note-to-self-ThornAs a good follow-up to yesterday’s post on the importance of daily devotions, we post this final “note to self”, titled “read”, as in “read your Bible.”

Start by reading and meditating on Psalm 119:129-135.

Dear Self,

You need to stop looking at Scripture merely as a text to dissect and start reading it as God’s Word given to you – today. Do you see how the psalmist thinks about God’s Word? For him, Scripture is a wonder that imparts wisdom, and he is thirsty for it every day. Your default is to read to know, or to study to learn in less than practical, experiential ways. You are often interested in getting into the Word, but more as an isolated discipline than the pursuit of God, and this robs you of the purpose of Scripture.

…For all your longing for God to speak, to make his will plain and his plan clear, you should be daily immersed in God’s Word. That is his voice, his will, and his plan made known to you. Consider these words, ‘Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.’ God’s face shines on you when you are learning – experientially – his Word. This means his favor and blessing are upon you, and that you have sweet communion with him through Scripture, but only when you receive it for what it is: God’s life-giving Word meant to be believed, received, and obeyed – not only dissected.

Taken from Chap.45 “Read” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 129-30.

Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time – D. Whitney

BiblestudypicIt’s a new year! Time to establish goals, resolve to get them accomplished, and dig in with renewed zeal. Including getting your (our) spiritual disciplines in order, such as devotions. Yes, family or couple devotions, but personal devotions too.

Then, again, you probably don’t need to bother with that. Why put all that stress on yourself to spend time with the Lord in His Word and prayer? You are busy and I am busy; we can’t be in two places at one time; the Lord understands that. And besides, we are already quite mature in our faith. We know the Bible pretty well and we already pray regularly with family and church. We hear some fairly meaty sermons on Sunday each week; that’s food for the week. And isn’t it legalistic to think that if I don’t have my quiet time with the Lord I should feel guilty? This year I’m going to just relax when it comes to my spiritual life. But, man, am I going to hit the gym and get this body in shape!

That’s the tongue-in-cheek approach Donald Whitney takes in his article for the rubric “Heart Aflame” in the January 2017 Tabletalk. Which is why it has the title it does: “Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time.” But to each of these poor reasons to pass on a regular devotional time, Whitney gives a solid biblical answer. And that is why you ought to read his article. So that you can determine to have a quiet time on a regular basis in 2017.

I needed this article, and I trust you do too. Read it and be motivated to start the new year with the godly resolve to be in the Word and in prayer daily.

Here is how he ends his article:

Third, even until death, the Apostle Paul wanted to saturate his soul in Scripture. In the last inspired letter he wrote, Paul pleaded with Timothy, “When you come, bring . . . the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). These writings almost certainly included a copy of the Old Testament. If a Christian as spiritually mature as the Apostle Paul required the regular intake of Scripture until death, dare we ever think we’ve “outgrown” the need for it?

Fourth, we are called to imitate spiritual heroes. In Hebrews 13:7, God commands us to remember, consider, and imitate Christian leaders of the past. We’re told, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” The consensus of the spiritual giants of Christian history that testifies to the indispensability of a believer’s devotional life should not be forgotten nor their example forsaken.

Fifth, rightly motivated devotional habits are never legalistic. Neither the strictest obedience to the Word of God nor the most zealous pursuit of holiness is ever legalistic if one’s motives are right. The measurement of legalism is not the consistency of one’s devotional practices but the heart’s reason for doing them.

Finally, you’ll likely never be less busy. If you can’t make time to meet God through the Bible and prayer now, it’s very unlikely you will when—if—life does slow down.

Significant changes in your life may indeed be needed. But think: How can less time with God be the answer?

 

Source: Why You Probably Don’t Need a Quiet Time by Donald Whitney

Spiritual Warfare: the Belt of Truth

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we are hosting discussion groups in our home and we will be continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

As we resume our study this year, we are up to the chapters treating the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we look at the first part of the armor – the girdle or belt of truth (v.14a). In the book this is explained in chapter 5 – “The Belt of Truth.” For your benefit as well, I post a few of the authors’ comments on this piece of our armor.

Clearly, the apostle uses this imagery to call Christians to stand ready for the fight. His words signify a transition from a relaxed to an action mode.In other words, the apostle is calling us to spiritual arms. War is upon us. The alarm has sounded. The battle lines have been drawn; therefore, we must responsibly gird ourselves for holy, active combat. Paul hands us our first piece of equipment, and we must put it on to be ready.

They continue with more detail:

The truth is our first line of spiritual defense against the devil. Truth is an indispensable piece of armor; it functions spiritually as the believer’s belt. We can imagine Paul the prisoner glancing over at his guard as he wrote this letter. Undoubtedly, he noticed the thick leather belt around the soldier’s waist, the central piece of equipment he wore. So the apostle begins his list of spiritual armor by writing metaphorically about the belt that we are to wear: As the soldier’s belt was placed at the center of his body, so truth must be central in our lives, encompassing all that we do if we are to be prepared for the fight with Satan, our crafty foe.

Which leads them to add:

By truth we bind up everything in our lives that is loose that might cause us to stumble in spiritual battle. Without truth girded about us, we will stumble and be overtaken. …It [the belt of truth] is strategic in the spiritual sense because without it, nothing else will stay in place. Without the belt of truth, we are exposed and utterly vulnerable to the devil’s schemes and are unable to stand against him (pp.43-44).

New Year’s Thoughts – Grace Gems

This meditation was posted yesterday (Jan.1, 2017) on the Grace Gems devotional website. It is drawn from “Morning Thoughts” by Octavius Winslow (1808-1878), and, as you will see, is fitting for the outset of a new year.

May God grant us a blessed 2017 of spiritual advance as we continue our journey to our everlasting home!

This year I may be in Heaven!

(Octavius Winslow, “Morning Thoughts”)

“You have not traveled this way before!” Joshua 3:4

How solemn is the reflection that each traveler to Zion is commencing a new and untrodden path!

New events in his history will transpire;
new scenes in the panorama of life will unfold;
new phases of character will develop;
new temptations will assail;
new duties will devolve;
new trials will be experienced;
new sorrows will be felt;
new friendships will be formed
new mercies will be bestowed.

How truly may it be said of the pilgrim journeying through the wilderness to his eternal home, as he stands upon the threshold of this untried period of his existence, pondering the unknown and uncertain future: “You have not traveled this way before!”

Reader! if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, you will enter upon a new stage of your journey by a renewed surrender of yourself to the Lord. You will make the cross the starting-point of a fresh setting out in the Heavenly race.

Oh, to begin the year with a broken heart for sin, beneath the cross of Immanuel–looking through that cross to the heart of a loving, forgiving Father!

Do not be anxious about the future–all that future God has provided for:
“All my times are in Your hands.”
“Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”
“Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you.”

Let it be a year of more spiritual advance: “Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.”
Forward in the path of duty;
forward in the path of suffering;
forward in the path of conflict;
forward in the path of labor; and
forward in the path to eternal rest and glory!

Soon will that rest be reached, and that glory appear! This new year may be the jubilee year of your soul–the year of your release. Oh spirit-stirring, ecstatic thought–this year I may be in Heaven!

First – Rev. W. Langerak

From the brand new issue of the Standard Bearer (January 1, 2017) comes this wonderful, food-for-your-soul article by Rev. Bill Langerak. “First” is his latest contribution to the rubric “A Word Fitly Spoken” and is certainly fitting as we begin the new year today.

first-bl-jan-2017-sb

I quote from the last few paragraphs, which point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one true First, and the One in whom alone we can also be first, in the truest sense of that word.

The ultimate explanation for why Jesus is first is this: He alone is the eternal and natural Son of God living in the bosom of the Father, as the express image of His person and brightness of His glory, daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him and declaring Him (Pro. 8:30; John 1:18). And He is first because at the appointed time, God sent this same only-begotten and eternal Son into the world to assume human nature by the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus is not only the firstborn son of Mary but firstborn of every creature (Matt. 1:25; Col. 1:15). As firstborn Son, Jesus is given the power, authority, and kingdom of God, made King of kings; even the angels must worship Him (Num. 8:16; Col. 1:19; 2Chr. 21:3; Ps. 89:27; Heb. 1:6). And as the Son of God, Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren, given responsibility to gather, defend, and preserve them as the church of God written in heaven (Rev. 8:29; Heb. 12:23).

Only through faith in Jesus, can we who are last, be first (Matt. 20:16). Even though He is the first, He first suffered many things to redeem us from among men as firstfruits unto God (Rev. 14:4). Only because He first loved us, are we begotten by the will of God as firstfruits of His creatures (Jam. 1:18). And only because He is the first begotten from the dead and firstfruits of them that sleep, will the dead in Christ shall rise first (1Cor. 15:23; 1Thess. 4:16).

Therefore, seek not to be first. Rather, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; seek Jesus, the first, and be assured that all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).

Note to Self: Take Note

Note-to-self-ThornAs we end the year of our Lord 2016 today, this final chapter in Joe Thorn’s book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, is fitting. This forty-eighth chapter is titled “Take Note.”

How will we “take note” of the Lord’s ways with us on this final day of 2016?

We can start by reading and meditating on 1 Chronicles 16:8-13. And then read on.

Dear Self,

Like the Israel of old, you tend to forget the most basic things. Important things. You need constant reminders…. You need to find ways to remind yourself about the things that matter, because when you aren’t intentionally setting the truth before yourself you forget.

You forget that before you knew Jesus you were a slave to sin, a child of wrath, a dead man walking. And remembering these truths promotes humility in yourself and dependence on God. You forget that in Jesus you are his disciple, a child of God, a new creation. And remembering these truths creates gratitude and optimism. You forget that you are made for the glory of God and the good of your neighbors. And remembering these truths gives you purpose and passion.

…Without reminders you will forget all of this and much more. And when you forget these things you get into trouble. This means you must do better than build a robust theology. You will have to exercise it. It demands setting that theology before yourself frequently. Israel erected “memorial stones” to remind themselves of the person and work of God. One of the primary ways you will remember the truth is by preaching it to yourself regularly.

…And do you realize that you are doing it right now? You are reminding yourself of the need to preach to yourself, to remind yourself, and to not forget your God. Remember your God and his wonderful works (pp.135-36).

Growing Our Minds to Avoid Spiritual Ruts – J. P. Moreland

love-god-mind-morelandWe often read the Bible, hear the news, listen to a sermon, or talk to friends, yet we don’t get much out of it. One central reason for this may be our lack of knowledge and intellectual growth. The more you know, the more you see and hear because your mind brings more to the task of ‘seeing as’ or ‘seeing that.’ In fact, the more you know about extrabiblical matters, the more you will see in the Bible. Why? Because you will see distinctions in the Bible or connections between Scripture and an issue in another area of life that would not be possible without the concepts and categories placed in the mind’s structure by gaining the relevant knowledge in those extrabiblical areas of thought. Thus, general intellectual development can enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation.

There is a closely related reason why intellectual development can enhance spiritual development: The mind forms habits and falls into ruts. One day at a chapel meeting, a missions professor showed a film clip of a foreign culture unfamiliar to most of us. He asked us to write down everything we noticed. He then showed the clip a second time and asked us to repeat the exercise. Everyone in the chapel meeting compared his or her first and second lists and, in every case, they were virtually identical! The professor’s lesson: our minds get into ruts in which we tend to look for things we have already seen  in order to validate our earlier perceptions. We seldom look at things from entirely fresh perspectives!

If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we get into ruts in our thinking and develop habits of thought that can grow stale after a while. This is where renewing the mind comes in. A life of study can give us a constant source of new categories and beliefs that will lead to fresh insights and stave off intellectual boredom. Many people become bored with the Bible precisely because their overall intellectual growth is stagnant. They cannot get new insights from Scripture because they bring the same old categories to Bible study and look to validate their old habits of thought.

Taken from J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), pp.79-80 (found in chapter 3 “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Formation” and in a section titled “How a developed mind helps us see”).

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 6:38 AM  Leave a Comment  

Note to Self: Repent

Start by reading and meditating on 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Dear Self,

You will never be done with repentance – at least, not until death or Christ’s return. While it is something you should be doing frequently, it is not something you just ‘get used to.’ Repentance requires a daily intentionality. And let’s be honest; you will have more to repent of by the end of the day than you can possibly remember. So, where should you start?

…It will be helpful to think of repentance in three parts: revulsion, resolution, and repetition. Revulsion is finding something offensive or distasteful. In this case, it is seeing the heinousness of sin and pulling back from it. Sin, your sin in particular, should make you recoil. …Revulsion will come only when you see the holy, just, and good character of God in contrast to yourself. Until you understand that your sin, all of it, is a self-destructive rebellion against God that betrays your purpose and denies his worthiness, you will not experience revulsion.

Resolution is purposing to walk in righteousness, delighting in God’s law, laying off the old self, and walking in newness of life. Repentance is more than feeling sorry for what you are and have done. It is having the resolve to live for the glory and pleasure of God.

Repetition is the ongoing nature of this work. Without repetition, it is all for nothing, for as long as you continue to sin, you need to repent.If your repentance is not continual, it means, at the very least, that you are simply choosing some sins to deal with, while ignoring others.

…The deepness and consistency of your repenting will have a direct impact on the liveliness of your faith and the brightness of your confidence. This is not because you repent so well, but because in repenting you know the darkness and trouble of your own sin, and the great work of grace in Jesus that overcomes it all.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.30 “Repent” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 99-100.

Remembering (and Forgetting) God – December “Tabletalk”

tt-dec-2016Yesterday I began digging into the featured articles in the December Tabletalk (daily devotions continue on the gospel of Mark).  This month’s theme is a rare one – “Remembering God” – and judging from what I have read so far, it is another timely subject.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with his article “God Never Forgets Us” (be sure to read it!).

The first main article I also read yesterday: “Forgetting God” by Dr. Benjamin Shaw (professor of Hebrew and OT at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, SC). He deals with the counter reality in our lives, namely, that we are called so often to remember God because we so easily forget Him.

Today, I give you a portion of his article, urging you to read all of it at the Ligonier link below.

Yesterday in God’s house of prayer and worship we heard the reminder to remember our God. As we start the work week now, let us not forget Him in the ways Shaw mentions. Let the truth that the Lord never forgets us motivate us to remember Him in all we do.

It is easy for us as modern Christians to point the finger at the Israelites and take them to task for the fact that they forgot God. The complaining we see in the wilderness, the cycle of apostasy, judgment, and restoration that we see in Judges, the good king/bad king alternations that we see in 1–2 Kings—these all emphasize the incessant inability of the Israelites to heed Moses’ admonition to “take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:12). We get tired when we read through Jeremiah and chapter after chapter is devoted to enumerating the sins of Israel and telling of Israel’s coming judgment. We feel that we are superior to Israel, more spiritual, less likely to forget God.

But we, too, get distracted by the demands of our days, by the busyness of our times. We forget that as Moses warned that declining from the commandments of God displays a forgetting of God, the same applies to us. We tend to think that ignoring, or rather, not fully living up to one commandment of God is a small thing. But the result is not simply disobedience. It is the beginning of idolatry, of making a god in our own image, a god we can easily obey. But did Jesus not say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? Yet, we find His commandments so easy to ignore. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32), Paul says, but we want to hold on to offenses and resentments. It feels good to bear a grudge. But that is not the way Christ teaches. To bear a grudge, to envy the gifts and graces of others, to covet the possessions of others—these are steps on the way to forgetting God.

Source: Forgetting God by Benjamin Shaw

Growing in Maturity – Tom Ascol

tt-nov-2016One of the featured articles in this month’s Tabletalk on Christian maturity is written by Dr. Tom Ascol. This third main article on the theme is titled “Growing in Maturity.”

In it, Ascol not only affirms from Scripture that believers must be growing into maturity as they grow older as Christians, but he also treats the means by which we are to do so. These means of the “how” of spiritual growth are not new to us, but they are important enough to be reminded of again.

I give you here his opening paragraph on this and then his section on using the Word of God as our chief means to reach maturity.

The How of Spiritual Maturity

Growth naturally follows birth in one’s spiritual life, just as it does in one’s physical life. That it is normal, however, does not mean that it is automatic. God has provided specific instruments to lead His people to spiritual maturity. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this provision:

Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto. (WCF 25.3)

Ordinary means of grace have been provided by God for both the “gathering” (conversion) and “perfecting” (maturing) of His people. The means that God has provided for creating faith in His people are the same means by which He intends for them to grow in faith. When Scripture encourages believers to advance in the Christian life, it never has in mind that we can outgrow our need of these ordinary means. Rather, as we continue to employ these means faithfully, we are empowered to grow deeper and stronger in our relationship with Christ.

The Word

Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Scripture is God’s Word written, and apart from it we cannot have a saving knowledge of God or grow in our relationship with Him. The Apostle Paul says God gave us the Scriptures to profit us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness so “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). To grow in maturity, a Christian must grow in his understanding of and submission to Scripture.

A casual acquaintance with the Bible will not suffice, as Jesus makes clear in the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount when He contrasts a house built on a rock that withstands the storms with one built on sand that is destroyed by them. The latter represents the person who merely hears the Word of Christ without submissively complying with it. His life lacks stability. The former is like the wise man who not only hears the teachings of Jesus but “does them.” His life will be characterized by a maturity that stands firm through the trials of life.

God has designed His Word to shape us through reading and hearing (Rom. 10:17; Rev. 1:3), through meditation and memorization (Josh. 1:8; Pss. 1:1–3; 119:11), and especially through faithful preaching (2 Tim. 4:1–5).

Source: Growing in Maturity by Tom Ascol