Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seven Sins on the Wilderness Way

Writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul stated that the actions of God's people in past generations "took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did" (1 Cor. 10:6). As members of the New Covenant, we are not on a physical journey from Egypt to the Promised Land as the nation of Israel once was, but we certainly find ourselves on a spiritual one. The road of life as we follow Jesus gives us various opportunities to be faithful to our King, or to be "stiff-necked" as this large band of travelers was often called.

Psalm 106 details the troubles the delivered nation faced, and it is instructive for us on our journey as well. What were they guilty of? How can we let their example, and the Scriptures that record their failures, search our hearts and bring us to repentance and renewed faith for the road ahead?

1. Forgetfulness (v.13) God had showed Himself to be powerful, acting for their continual good as they left Egypt and traveled toward His promise; but when given a new opportunity to trust in His provision, the people did not wait for Him to act or seek His counsel. Have you found this to be a pattern in your walk? Has God shown up for you in the past, but when a new obstacle arises, you forget to call on Him and wait for His provision?

2. Thanklessness (v.14) No matter how God blessed them, these men and women always found what they lacked, and griped that God wasn't giving it to them. They were more marked by complaint than praise. Are you more apt to see and speak of the blessings received from God's hand or what you don't have?

3. Jealousy (v.16) Though God had obviously raised up Moses for the purpose of leading the expedition, and the people benefited from his guidance, the eye of jealousy occasionally wandered in his direction, as rivals were envious of the position and power he had. Are there people in your life you are continually measuring yourself against? When things go well for them, do you rejoice or become bitter?

4. Idolatry (v.19) Instead of receiving God as He had shown Himself to be, the people were guilty of fashioning Him into something they were more comfortable with. I don't expect that you construct idols out of materials in your home, but it's quite possible that you do in your heart and mind. Do you embrace the God of the Scriptures as He's revealed to you- all of Him? Does your heart occasionally fashion Him into a genie, whose sole purpose is to serve your perceived needs? Our hearts are prone to wander. They need to be trained by grace to wander continually to Him.

5. Unbelief (v.24) The chosen nation did not believe God's word or His promises. He had told them they would receive a good land from Him, but when it came time to take it from those who appeared mighty, fear overtook them instead of faith. It's easy for us to say we believe what God tells us is ours in Scripture, but faith is exercised when our actions match our words. Does your living align with what you profess? Are the treasures in Christ really for you? When Christ calls you to follow Him into uncharted territory, will you pump the brakes or hold on tightly to Him?

6. Rashness (v.33) Lack of self-control was evident in the speech of the people, and it eventually was displayed by Moses. Their words were used without restraint, as if God does not hear. This may seem frivolous to some, but God is concerned about every idle word, and expects us to use our speech as an encouraging gift to others (and in praise to Him), not a curse. We will give an account to him for what we say (Matt. 12:36).

7. Disobedience (v.34) God gave clear commands to His people- how they were to settle and take the land He had promised. Yet, they failed to obey. This should be the most obvious sin to us as we travel the road of life- when God's word clearly speaks to us of how we are to follow His lordship, but we still refuse. Are you harboring any disobedience? Trying to justify in your heart or to others what you know is not pleasing to Him? Seek to please Christ, not the fleshly nature that still remains.

Thankfully the Psalm does not end on a note of judgment. God is gracious to those who call on Him (repentance), He remembers the covenant He made (with us through Jesus' blood) and overflows with love toward those who know (faith) His name.

Your Fellow Traveler...

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Pursuit of Knowledge

Three of my children went out the door this morning for the beginning of another school year. The excitement of new friends, books, and experiences is underway. Hopefully, that joy will be followed by the pursuit of knowledge, which will expand their minds and lead to a better understanding of the world they live in. The dedication of their teachers, combined with their own desire to learn, will lead them down streams they never knew could be navigated, bearing treasures once incapable of attainment. My hope, as their father, is that they would love to find these riches, and their lives would be spent in the increase of the storehouse of their minds. My surpassing hope for them, though, is that the pursuits of my children would lead them beyond what is gained in great institutions of learning. The most valuable wisdom that this life affords is not found in the way most would expect, nor is it merely a set of moral principles, an ideology, or a subject to be researched. It is wholly unlike the comprehension one can attain through study and experience in other pursuits, because it is not primarily based on trial and error, reason, or examination. This knowledge is of a Redeemer- a Lord, and Savior. To receive it, one must know Him, and have fellowship with Him. This is what I want my children to know. This is the knowledge I want my wife and I to be increasing in- Him- in all His glory and joy. The scientist can investigate the subject in his field, classroom, and lab, and be renowned for his expertise without ever needing to communicate or enter into fellowship with his assignment. His goal is to reach right conclusions of what can be seen in the world. The historian may read about people or places past and become the foremost scholar on the matter without ever speaking to the one who lived or to those involved. Her efforts are focused on gaining the right records and drawing proper conclusions. The mathematician need not know any individual at all in the quest for truth. His concern is quantity, space, structures, and the like.

No, the eyes will not testify of a Redeemer, even if given the strongest lens that extends the vision into the heavens or down to the molecules. The mind may be exercised with the most challenging complexities of life, and work out all its logic, without ever contemplating the One who was its Author. The senses will not lead you to the choicest shores of wisdom. By them, a man can know God exists, but never know the treasures He possesses. He could regurgitate facts about the Supreme Being, but never feel the profundity of His mercy, grace, and love. These pearls are sought by diving into the depths of God's Word, being made visible by His Spirit; and the one who believes what He sees will find his search fruitful. Ultimate wisdom in mankind is expressed when he believes in the God who loves him and saves him from his inability to think, feel, and choose rightly. Humanity may have progressed in understanding its surroundings and how to function in them, but all are separated from God by their sin. Communion with the most glorious mind and heart was achieved, not by man's pursuit of God, but God's pursuit of man, when Jesus Christ purchased our allegiance with His blood. Our senses will tell us something has gone wrong in the world, but only Word and Spirit open our eyes to the salvation, healing, and peace that has been won by our Lord. Through Jesus Christ, we have intimate knowledge of the God of all wisdom, and only through Him will every other subject find its supreme expression and man's enjoyment in them.

I'm thankful for the school my children attend, and for the teachers who have been entrusted with their minds. I hope they are challenged, and their worlds expand through the knowledge they gain, but my greatest hope, is that they will know, not merely the wisdom of what has been created, but the Creator who is also Redeemer.

Grace be with you all,
Lonnie Atwood

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Worship and the Satisfaction of our Souls

A few years ago, John Piper's book, Desiring God, captivated my mind and heart with the biblical notion that our God is radically God-centered in everything He does- that His glory is central in His own mind because He is the greatest treasure that exists. Because God is supremely beautiful, delightful, and good, His creatures, who are made in His image and for Him, will find their greatest delight in the One who made them to enjoy Him. This stream of thought is found throughout Piper's works. Today, I came across a section he has written on worship, which challenged me concerning my desires every Lord's Day as I come together with God's people.

He writes:
"The essence of authentic, corporate worship is the collective experience of heartfelt satisfaction in the glory of God, or a trembling that we do not have it and a great longing for it. Worship is for the sake of magnifying God, not ourselves, and God is magnified in us when we are satisfied in him. Therefore, the unchanging essence of worship (not the outward forms which do change) is heartfelt satisfaction in the glory of God, the trembling when we do not have it and the longing for it.
         The basic movement of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with our hands full to give to God, as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25), but to come with our hands empty, to receive from God. And what we receive in worship is the fullness of God, not the feelings of entertainment. We ought to come hungry for God. We should come saying, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1–2). God is mightily honored when a people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God.
          Nothing makes God more supreme and more central in worship than when a people are utterly persuaded that nothing—not money or prestige or leisure or family or job or health or sports or toys or friends—nothing is going to bring satisfaction to their sinful, guilty, aching hearts besides God. This conviction breeds a people who go hard after God on Sunday morning. They are not confused about why they are in a worship service. They do not view songs and prayers and sermons as mere traditions or mere duties. They see them as means of getting to God or God getting to them for more of his fullness—no matter how painful that may be for sinners in the short run.
         If the focus in corporate worship shifts onto our giving to God, one result I have seen again and again is that subtly it is not God that remains at the center but the quality of our giving. Are we singing worthily of God? Do the instrumentalists play with a quality befitting a gift to God? Is the preaching a suitable offering to God? And little by little the focus shifts off the utter indispensability of God himself onto the quality of our performances. And we even start to define excellence and power in worship in terms of the technical distinction of our artistic acts. Nothing keeps God at the center of worship like the biblical conviction that the essence of worship is deep, heartfelt satisfaction in him, and the conviction that the trembling pursuit of that satisfaction is why we are together.
         Furthermore, this vision of worship prevents the pragmatic hollowing out of this holy act. If the essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. We simply can’t say to God, “I want to be satisfied in you so that I can have something else.” For that would mean that we are not really satisfied in God but in that something else. And that would dishonor God, not worship him.
         But, in fact, for thousands of people, and for many pastors, the event of “worship” on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We “worship” to raise money; we “worship” to attract crowds; we “worship” to heal human hurts; to recruit workers; to improve church morale; to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; to teach our children the way of righteousness; to help marriages stay together; to evangelize the lost; to motivate people for service projects; to give our churches a family feeling.
         In all of this we bear witness that we do not know what true worship is. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife: “I feel a strong delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal.” That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, “I love playing ball with you—so that you will cut the grass.” If your heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something.
        I do not deny that authentic corporate worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will, just like true affection in marriage, make everything better. My point is that to the degree that we do “worship” for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be authentic worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy." (God's Passion for His Glory, pp. 40-42).

I hope that I, along with God's people, assemble this coming Lord's Day with hearts that long to praise and pursue Him, because we know that nothing, and no one else, can ever satisfy our souls, but the One who made us to enjoy and glorify Him. Will you join me or those in your community with this same hope?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Waiting for the King

Judges 21:25 "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

In the earliest days after Israel had taken possession of the land, the people rejected the kingship of the Lord, and followed after whatever seemed right to them. They chased after other gods, stole from their neighbors, killed one another, and defiled themselves sexually. The narrator of the book of Judges reminds the reader several times that these things were a result of there not being a king in the land. This sets the stage in 1 Samuel where one is chosen (as anticipated in Deuteronomy 18), eventually bringing the lineage of David to the throne. God's desire was that He would be the King of His chosen people, and even through Israel's rejection of Him, God providentially establishes Himself as the eternal king for His people. His plans are not foiled by their rebellion. They are established by it, as He is sovereign over all. It is through the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7) that the Lord promises a king will forever be on the throne, and we know that king to be the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one that is foreshadowed by those who come before, including David- the king of war, and his son, Solomon- the king of peace. When the great King returns, He will wage war on those in rebellion against him, much like David, and then there will be peace for the people of God, as in the days of Solomon.

When mankind refuses to accept God's authority, he will pursue whatever seems right to him. Scripture and history are replete with illustrations. If we're really honest, we know this is true of ourselves, too. This is what the unregenerate, unbelieving heart really wants, to be left to itself- to indulge all it desires, without anyone telling it what it can and can not do. It wants to serve as its own authority. If man must have a king, he clamors for one that will lead and legislate so he can legally obtain what he wants, which eases his conscience and makes his actions more acceptable. Nothing is new under the sun. Man needs God as his king just as much today as he did more than three thousand years ago in Israel, and rejects Him still. But like then, God is merciful and patient, providing a deliverer to those who call upon Him. Though they rejected His leadership time and again, God answers the repentant when they cry out, promising their deliverance and salvation from their enemies. God still answers those cries today, promising deliverance and salvation through the Savior of His people, Jesus Christ. He promises not to leave us to ourselves; that He will change our pursuits from those that seem right to us, into new desires that accord with His Kingdom and His wonderful decrees. He is already on His throne, and is bringing hearts into joyful subjection to His rule. Enemies within and those without are still being conquered, but He will be victorious. He will complete the masterpiece of history, and rule the Kingdom of Peace forever. In the book of Judges, there was not yet a king in the land- only the expectation of one. He now rules, and we know of His glory by faith, but the promised Day will come, and we will see with our eyes "the king in his beauty" (Isaiah 33:17). We once clamored for what seemed right to us; now, by grace, we await the return of our King.

Monday, July 28, 2014

To Those Who Would Plan Well

There is great comfort in knowing what our future holds. When we have all of our ducks in a row- everything packed or planned, saved for or scheduled- our minds are set at ease. We like to believe we have everything under control, or at least try to as much as possible, looking to limit potential hazards. There is a reason why you won't find many advisers selling customers on the haphazard life. Planning seems to be good wisdom, and Scripture bears that out (Luke 14:28-33, Proverbs 21:5). We should do whatever we can to plan for the future, but we should never find our greatest comfort in the belief we have it all under control. One phone call or notice in the mail could change everything and shake the world under our feet. So, it's good wisdom to plan, but far better to ask the Lord to guide what we plan- that He would be underneath our thoughts, desires, and choices. The Bible has a great deal to say about this, since it is God who orders the events in His world (Proverbs 16:9, 19:21, James 4:13-16). Whether we'll admit it or not, we forget that He is the trustworthy, merciful, and faithful One. He has no bad days, never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, and is never slothful. Everything He does is for the good of His people. All the days we have left on our calendar (and beyond) can be marked with His promise to be with us, no matter what else happens. Life can change suddenly, but our God never does. His love for those in Christ will never be diminished, even when we fail, since His grace in the Lord Jesus is greater than our sin. We should find the greatest of comforts in Him alone. We may ask that God would make our future clear, but generally what we'll find is that He calls us to trust Him with it, to obey in what He tells us is right for today, and praise Him no matter what tomorrow brings. So yes, plan for tomorrow, but remember who's in control of it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spurgeon's Lectures

A recent treasure in my life has been Charles Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students. He taught the contents of this book to those who attended his pastor's college in England with Spirit-wrought wisdom and wit on the many facets of the minister's life and work. No doubt, they are beneficial for all, not just those in vocational ministry.

On Prayer:
"One bright benison which private prayer brings down upon the ministry is an indescribable and inimitable something, better understood than named; it is a dew from the Lord, a divine presence which you will recognize at once when I say it is “an unction from the holy One.” What is it? I wonder how long we might beat our brains before we could plainly put into words what is meant by preaching with unction; yet he who preaches knows its presence, and he who hears soon detects its absence."

On Pride:
"I can, it is true, easily muster a hundred reasons why I should not be proud, but pride will not mind reason, nor anything else but a good drubbing. Even at this moment I feel it tingling in my fingers’ ends, and seeking to guide my pen,” Knowing something myself of those secret Whippings which our good Father administers to’ his servants when he sees them unduly exalted, I heartily add my own Solemn warnings against your pampering the flesh by listening to the praises of the kindest friends you have. They are injudicious, and you must beware of them."

On Praise and Criticism:
"...it is always best not to know, nor to wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes. Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us, and the one may be regarded as a set off to the other, if indeed it be worth while taking any account at all of man’s judgment. If we have the approbation of our God, certified by a placid conscience, we can afford to be indifferent to the opinions of our fellow men, whether they commend or condemn. If we cannot reach this point we are babes and not men."

On Gossip:
"There are also certain persons who are never so happy as when they are "grieved to the heart" to have to tell the minister that Mr. A. is a snake in the grass, that he is quite mistaken in thinking so well of Messrs. B. and C...Never listen to such people...Let the creatures buzz, and do not even hear them, unless indeed they buzz so much concerning one person that the matter threatens to be serious; then it will be well to bring them to book and talk in sober earnestness to them. Assure them that you are obliged to have facts definitely before you, that your memory is not very tenacious, that you have many things to think of, that you are always afraid of making any mistake in such matters, and that if they would be good enough to write down what they have to say the case would be more fully before you, and you could give more time to its consideration. Mrs. Grundy will not do that; she has a great objection to making clear and definite statements; she prefers talking at random."

On Sincerity:

"We must—some of us especially must—conquer our tendency to levity. A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and that general levity, which is a vice. There is a levity which has not enough heart to laugh, but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal. A hearty laugh is no more levity than a hearty cry. I speak of that religious veneering which is pretentious, but thin, superficial, insincere about the weightiest matters. Godliness is no jest, nor is it a mere form. Beware of being actors. Never give earnest men the impression that you do not mean what you say, and are mere professionals. To be burning at the lip, and freezing at the soul, is a mark of reprobation. God deliver us from being either superfine or superficial; may we never be the butterflies of the garden of God!"

Thursday, June 12, 2014

God Makes Our Happiness His Own Charge

Have you ever failed to do something good for another person because you were concerned what would happen to you as a result? How will I take care of myself if I'm always concerned about the needs of others? If I give, will I have anything left? Fear often drives our inaction because we're afraid of the outcome. In turn, we focus on ourselves, becoming selfish, rather than living in loving service of others. Jonathan Edwards gives an amazing response concerning the kind of life we should strive to live and why: 
If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can. But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ's, and the things of your fellow human beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are. The resources of the universe move at his bidding, and he can easily command them all to subserve your welfare. So that, not to seek your own, in the selfish sense, is the best way of seeking your own in a better sense. It is the directest course you can take to secure your highest happiness.
Doing good is to be the work of the Christian, and as he serves others with love for them and faith in his God, he can be assured that the Lord of the universe will care for him and give the greater happiness. Therefore, go and do good without fear.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

As a Man Carries His Son

"The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go."
(Deuteronomy 1:30-33 ESV)

In this great book, Moses recounts Israel's experience in the wilderness, and gives another reading of the Law, to those who were preparing to go into the Promised Land. Here, in this passage, he provides a reminder of how the last generation failed to trust the Lord when it had been their turn to enter. God would have led them into the land, as a man carries his own son. He furthers his point by stating  how God proved His faithfulness in their past by keeping His people safe on their desert journeys, as He sought out new places for them to camp. God would "go before" them by fire at night and cloud by day. He was always clearing a path and serving as their eyes, scouting and charting their course. When the time came to trust in His power, by faith, to remove the larger and stronger nations from the land He had promised them, the people wilted in fear, forgetting Who is was that protected them. Two applications come to mind from this passage- (1) God will carry me home safely and deliver to me what He has promised in Christ Jesus. Would-be giants and would-be fortified cities lie in wait as I approach, but my focus cannot be mainly on them. Yes, I could allow fear and anxiety to overtake me. Even now, matters that some day will seem small, appear large. But my God is bigger. He is faithful and trustworthy. I will follow Him wherever His fire and cloud lead, and He will serve as my strength on this winding journey. (2) As I think about the stages in life that my children are currently in, I hope that their early years develop in them, a trust, by God's grace, in their Heavenly Father, but also in those whom He has entrusted them to for a time- their earthly parents. Not just that we would care for them physically, but that they will trust us for wisdom and guidance in more difficult days ahead- when they discover giants and fortified cities outside of their home camp. These early years are the days of manna and water from the rock, but the time will come when they must decide if God will truly carry them into the land, like He has said (and hopefully we have confirmed in word and by action), or if sight seems more practical to them than faith. I do hope that they see, in us, people who live what we speak (and vice-versa), and that they can come to us for wisdom, in the way they should go. Valuable years. Eternal impact. God grant us mercy and grace!

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Death on Friday

Good Friday is a day when millions reflect (more earnestly?) on the death of Jesus than at any other time during the year. Scripture bears witness that there were many who had part in the death of Christ. The Jewish leaders (1 Thess. 2:14-15) and the Roman authorities (Acts 4:27) had their hands stained by His blood. In His providential wisdom, God the Father planned this death so men might know His grace and glory (Isaiah 53:4-6, 10; Acts 2:23). But there is another element to this story that needs to be told as well.

Charles Spurgeon describes it this way:

"There was a day, as I took my walks abroad, when I came hard-by a spot forever engraven upon my memory, for there I saw this Friend, my best, my only Friend, murdered. I stooped down in sad affright, and looked at him. I saw that his hands had been pierced with rough nails, and his feet had been rent in the same way. There was misery in his dead countenance so terrible that I scarcely dared to look upon it. His body was emaciated with hunger, his back was red with bloody scourges, and his brow had a circle of wounds about it: clearly could one see that these had been pierced by thorns.

I shuddered, for I had known this friend full well. He never had a fault; he was the purest of pure, the holiest of the holy. Who could have injured him? For he never injured any man; all his life long he 'went about doing good;' he had healed the sick, he had fed the hungry, he had raised the dead. For which of these works did they kill him? He had never breathed out anything else but love; and as I looked into the poor sorrowful face, so full of agony, and yet so full of love, I wondered who could have been a wretch so vile as to pierce hands like his. I said within myself, 'Where can these traitors live? Who are these that could have smitten such a One as this?' Had they murdered an oppressor, we might have forgiven them. Had they slain one who had indulged in vice or villainy, it might have been his desert. Had it been a murderer and a rebel, or one who had committed sedition, we would have said, 'Bury his corpse; justice has at last given him his due.' But when thou wast slain, my best, my only beloved, where lodged the traitors? Let me seize them, and they shall be put to death. If there be torments that I can devise, surely they shall endure them all. Oh! What jealousy, what revenge I felt! If I might but find these murderers, what would I not do with them!

And as I looked upon that corpse, I heard a footstep, and wondered where it was. I listened, and I clearly perceived that the murderer was close at hand. It was dark, and I groped about to find him. I found that, somehow or other, wherever I put out my hand, I could not meet with him, for he was nearer to me than my hand would go. At last I put my hand upon my breast. 'I have thee now,' said I; for lo! he was in my own heart! The murderer was hiding within my own bosom, dwelling in the recesses of my inmost soul. Ah! Then I wept indeed, that I, in the very presence of my murdered Master, should be harbouring the murderer, and I felt myself most guilty while I bowed over His corpse, and sang that plaintive hymn:

"'Twas you, my sins, my cruel sins,
            His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
            And unbelief the spear."

My sins were the scourges which lacerated those blessed shoulders, and crowned with thorns those bleeding brows. My sins cried, 'Crucify him! Crucify him!' and laid the cross upon his gracious shoulders. His being led forth to die is sorrow enough for one eternity; but my having been his murderer is more, infinitely more grief, than one poor fountain of tears can express."

We also have blood on our hands, but in the amazing Gospel we hold dear by faith, the same blood that could have testified against us, has brought us near to God and made us clean.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Knowing Grace

I've recently reiterated to my oldest daughters that if they can learn two things in school, I'd like them to strive to do well in English and Math. I've generally thought of these as foundational building blocks of learning success. If you can read, write, and understand things written and spoken, your ability to learn more greatly increases. As for math, most kids avoid it like green vegetables, wondering how it could ever be good for them, and fighting against every bite. However, math is a part of everyday life- shopping, bills, bank statements, budgets, time- and it is necessary to understand later subjects, especially the sciences. Learning these two subjects well makes living easier and more enjoyable.

If I can help them learn and truly understand one thing, it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because a proper understanding of His person and work is foundational for everything they need for "life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). Sure, I would like for them to have "success" in life- to be well adjusted, confident, making good grades that lead to good degrees, but this success only lasts for a short time, and ultimately not profiting their souls. Godliness, according to Paul (1 Timothy 4:8), has value in this life, but also for the life to come.

 If I can push this a little further, hoping they can grasp something intrinsic to the Gospel-essential for understanding how it applies to them, and thus transforms them into Christ-likeness, I would have them know GRACE. This can't be a fuzzy concept, because it is so important. They have to realize that they do not deserve God's acceptance, His love, His mercy, or His peace, but because of the obedience and humility of Christ, they can have all these and more in Him (most importantly having Him!). Knowing this grace takes our eyes off of ourselves and how well we do, and makes us see the excellence of Jesus Christ and what he has done. Knowing this grace takes our eyes off of everyone else, never using them as a measuring stick for our success, but pointing us to Jesus who alone makes us a success before God. Self-righteousness vanishes because we have none. Guilt fades because we know righteousness comes from outside of ourselves. I'm prone to drift into a performance-based relationship with God, but He calls me to see and trust in His glorious Christ, who loved me and gave Himself for me, so that I might joyfully say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13), and receive grace upon grace.

A few years ago, I read a book by Jerry Bridges (The Discipline of Grace), and the opening three chapters hit me like a thunderbolt, and nothing else I've read on the subject has helped shape my understanding like those pages did. I'll continue to review them, I'm sure, for the rest of my life. I need to know grace, not just how I can explain it, but experientially, that it would transform me. It's foundational for my growth and for my children's. I'll close with a few quotes from Bridges that he makes in the opening pages, and have attached a .pdf version of this first chapter below.

"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace" (19).

"It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery. It is only gratitude and love to God that comes from knowing that He no longer counts our sins against us (Romans 4:8) that provides the proper motive for responding to the claims of discipleship" (21).

"The gospel, applied to our hearts every day, frees us to be brutally honest with ourselves and with God. The assurance of His total forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Christ means we don’t have to play defensive games anymore. We don’t have to rationalize and excuse our sins. We can say we told a lie instead of saying we exaggerated a bit. We can admit an unforgiving spirit instead of continuing to blame our parents for our emotional distress. We can call sin exactly what it is, regardless of how ugly and shameful it may be, because we know that Jesus bore that sin in His body on the cross. With the assurance of total forgiveness through Christ, we have no reason to hide from our sins anymore" (23).


Grace be with you,
Lonnie Atwood

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reaping a Harvest

2 Corinthians 9:6-11

To encourage the church in Corinth to give in support of the needs of the poor church in Jerusalem, Paul expands here on a well-known proverb that one reaps what they sow. His teaching here (and plenty of other Bible passages) is often misused to promote giving for the sake of more material gain for the giver. However, God's focus when one gives is on the condition of the heart- with her willingness and disposition in the act (v.7). The promise of what abounds to the giver isn't more possessions, but grace (v.8) which produces a harvest of good works (v.8) and righteousness (v.10) to the praise of God (v.11). Might this include the blessing of material things? It could, so that others will be blessed through the increase of those things, and God, who supplied the seed for the sower, will be glorified. So, we should give generously and cheerfully as a people whose deep desire is not greedy gain, as if our true joy is found there, but as those who love to gain more grace that abounds to increase praise to the Lord.

"...whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:6-11 ESV)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Father's Delight

"...each one will receive his commendation from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5)

1    Children obey their fathers for various reasons. There are times when they obey out of fear of punishment. There are times when they comply because they know it is right for a child to submit to a parent's authority. Then there are others where they obey so they can have favor over another sibling. But the best form of obedience is when they act simply because they love the delight of their father. They rejoice in His smile, his approval, his warmth, and his joy. There is no greater pinnacle than to receive commendation from God, to see the pleasure that he takes in His children. Why would I or any one of you ever be worthy to receive praise from God? You beam with delight when earthly fathers smile upon you or when your boss commends your work, but reflect on the magnitude of Almighty God commending you, praising you, even acknowledging you. We'll be swallowed up in the joy of our Father, who alone is our boast. I recently witnessed this first hand in my own home. While playing indoor hockey with one of my daughters, who probably enjoys my company as much as anyone, she hurt me with one of the sticks. I got angry, and though I quickly told her I was fine and that I was sorry for getting upset, our time was ruined. She didn't want to play, disappeared for a time, and when she reappeared, was still upset. After some digging to see what was going on, I eventually realized her sadness wasn't from hurt feelings because of the anger I showed. It was that she had, for a time, lost the joy and delight of her Father, and this hurt her on a deeper level than any punishment I could give. My hope is to cultivate, in my own life and in the life of my family, a deeper delight in God. Not simply for His benefits, but in His person- that on that Day my greatest joy will be, as a son, in his delight and praise, because I have been joined to the person and work of The Son, Jesus Christ.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Owen, the Spirit, and the Battle Against Sin

John Owen is more insightful than any other author that I have read on the subject of temptation and sin. He makes it clear that sin is a living power that seeks to exert its force in every corner of a man's life, and if the man isn't at work killing sin, he can be certain that sin is killing him. The only power the Christian has in this battle to gain victory over the power of the flesh is the Spirit of God, who enables him to escape the chains that have latched onto his soul and seek to destroy him. The Spirit, however, does not merely bring all this to pass without the effort of the individual. His growth in the killing of sin requires he exercise his own will in the fight.

"The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. And, indeed, I might here bewail the endless, foolish labor of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin, and not able to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which profits not (Isa. 55:2).
This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but hath no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer; they are like men thrust on the sword of enemies on purpose to be slain. The law drives them on, and sin beats them back. Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. But that time they are cold, they must to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound."

(John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Treasure and Fear

Our lives should be marked with a healthy fear of God, rather than an unhealthy fear of man. The one who fears man worries that his power, possessions, position, or esteem will be lost, so he succumbs to what he believes will preserve his treasure. The man or woman of God, however, should possess a fear of disobeying the Lord, who possesses all things, including one's very life (Matt. 10:28). Do you live in the light, as one who is under the watchful eye of the Most High God? Or are your actions performed with little thought of God, or little thoughts of Him? Is the God of your imagination lacking in knowledge of your deeds and thoughts, or does he lack power to judge rightly? If our minds were clear and shaped by the truth of who God is, we would possess a holy fear of Him, run to the cross daily, and praise God for His grace that a Savior has removed His righteous wrath from us. If we took seriously his awesomeness and holiness, we would grieve deeply over every sinful choice, impure thought, and careless word, and would be more intentional with our course in life. What you treasure will direct your path. Do you treasure the approval of God, or of man? Your choices will reflect both your treasure and your fear (See 1 Samuel 15:10-31, Acts 5:27-32).