Category Archives: Meditations

Chosen to be trophies of His grace

The Gospel Centered Life

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV)

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19 ESV)

In case you have forgotten, the bible explicitly proclaims from Genesis to Revelation that He chose us, we did not choose Him.  He was the initiator, He was the one that sought us – we did not seek Him.  No one seeks God (Romans 3:11), we were spiritually dead (Genesis 2:17, Ephesians 2:1-10).  This means that if you are a Christian, then you were chosen according to God’s…

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Be Still & Behold

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalms 46:1–11 ESV)

God is the only source of security & strength for our soul when we are hard pressed on every side.  Regardless of whether the world is falling apart due to calamities, natural disasters or man made atrocities, God is the Christian’s refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble.  Instead of the tumulus seas and uncertainty of mountains being tossed into the sea, God’s presence is calming.  Despite kingdoms that rise & fall the grace and goodness of God surpasses them all.

In verse 8, the Psalmist invites the singer to behold the works of the LORD.  Recall and know that God will bring an eternal peace to the earth – a peace that squashes all evil, hardship and rebellion.  A peace that will reign forever.  Peace with God & peace with man.  To understand and experience this power and peace you have to do one thing.  You have to be still and know that He is God.  In the midst of hardships and turmoil and relational strife the world clamors for your attention, you have to be still and know that He is God.  You have to be still & behold His majesty.  It is only in stilling one’s soul that the presence of the Almighty will drown out all of the things of this world.  There is coming a day when there will be no fighting, no crying, no hurt, no pain.  God will be exalted, He will rule & reign, He will make all things new.  There is coming a day that He will make everything right so be still, get in the presence of the Almighty and think on these things.  Let them wash over you and fuel your worship.  God, gives us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to believe!

Chosen to be trophies of His grace

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV)

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19 ESV)

In case you have forgotten, the bible explicitly proclaims from Genesis to Revelation that He chose us, we did not choose Him.  He was the initiator, He was the one that sought us – we did not seek Him.  No one seeks God (Romans 3:11), we were spiritually dead (Genesis 2:17, Ephesians 2:1-10).  This means that if you are a Christian, then you were chosen according to God’s sovereign electing purposes which are mysterious to us.  You were not chosen because you were more spiritually attuned, more moral, had the right upbringing or because of what you would become after God saved you.  You were chosen to be a trophy of His grace.  You were (and still are) undeserving.  When you present yourself as worthy before God, He finds it disgusting (Isaiah 64:6) because you are not and the fact that you are trying to present yourself that way indicates that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of grace.

He foreknew you and predestined (determined before He created anything) you to be conformed into the image of His Son.  He predestined, He called, He justified and He will be faithful to glorify (Romans 8:29-30).  There is nothing about you doing anything in Romans 8:29-30, the emphasis is upon a gracious, saving, adopting God who redeems enemies and adopts them as family.  The more we understand this, the more that we worship God with hearts of gratitude.

A few passages to consider:

  • Deuteronomy 4:37-39 (God loved & chose Abraham & his offspring), 7:6-9 (it is not because we are awesome that He set His saving affections upon us, but because of His love & sovereign choosing), 10:14-15 (God owns everything and yet, He set His heart upon us), 14:2 (the Lord chose you as His treasured possession out of all of the people of the earth)
  • Isaiah 41:8-10, 44:18-20 (God blinds those who worship idols), 48 (God uses Cyrus, a pagan king), 57:18-19 (God creates repentant hearts), 65:1 (sought by those who did not ask for God)
  • Ezekiel 33:11 (God desires that all be saved and finds no joy in those who reject the Gospel)
  • Luke 24:31 (their eyes were opened, and they recognized him)
  • John 3:27 (A person cannot receive one thing unless it is given to him from heaven), 8:47 (those of God hear God), 10:26 (you don’t believe because you aren’t part of Jesus’ flock), 13:18, 15:16 (You did not choose me, I chose you), 15:19 (I chose you out of the world), 18:37
  • Romans 10:20 (Gentiles, who did not seek God found Him)
  • Ephesians 1:4-11, Ephesians 2:1-9 (But God, being rich in mercy, made you alive)
  • Colossians 2:11-15 (He made you alive)
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14 (God chose you to be first fruits)
  • 1 Peter 1:3-5 (He has caused us to be born again)
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 (God desires that all be saved and finds no joy in those who reject the Gospel)
  • 1 John 4:6

Cooling affections

““If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 13:1–5 ESV)

This section warns the Israelites not to listen to or follow prophets who do miracles and tells them to follow & serve other gods!  This seems easy and straight forward to us, but at this point in history the scriptures had not been fully given to the people so prophets played a major role in God revealing His will to His people.  The Israelites were called to follow God (who was familiar), to fear God, to obey God and to hold fast to God.  In the western world, there is little cost to count for this, but for the Israelites it would be their lives and their very existence.

God calls them to take radical steps to purge the evil in their midst, in this case a false prophet.  That false prophet shall be put to death!  Scripture always paints the removal of evil & the killing of sin (mortification) in violent ways.  It paints pictures and uses words like murder, annihilation, mutilation & amputation (Colossians 3:1-11, Matthew 5:29-30 & 26:41).  This was physical for the Israelites – a picture of what we should pursue in our walk with the Lord.

We tend to minimize our sins & idols as “not being that big of a deal.”  But, God’s standard is holiness and He is completely devoted to conforming His children into the image of His Son.  Far too often we are content to bring our sins & idols into our hearts (Ezekiel 14:3) where we dream about them, place our trust in them & rely upon them for our well being in life.  In short, we worship them.  Killing sin always starts in our hearts and is aimed at ripping out the things that we have come to rely upon for our identity, safety, well being (emotional, physical or spiritual) – the things that we have placed our hope for deliverance in.  When things get ripped out of our hearts, pain is involved because a part of us is dying.  Dying is painful.  But the person who is willing to endure the pain will find true life, abiding joy & deep satisfaction (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).

What tugs at your hearts affections?  Do you find your affection for the Lord cooling, while your affections for other things warming?  We must flee those things that create competing affections in our hearts.  This is done practically by removing ourselves from the situation & exposure, and by cultivating a deeper love for God.  The answer is to see God more clearly (sovereign, holy, merciful, good, gracious) so that the things that vie for our affections become less attractive because they pale in comparison.

The Gospel Centered Life

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13 ESV)

Paul is grateful for the Philippians’ gift to him & for their partnership in the gospel (1:5), but he has learned a contentment that transcends his external circumstances.  To be content means to be OK with the lot that we have in life or with the means that have been afforded to us, regardless of whether they are slim or plentiful.  However, we normally associate lacking contentment with being in need.  For most that are reading this, that is not the case –…

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Heart of the Matter Review

““This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV)

What is the work that we need to be doing?  That is the same question that was asked of Jesus in John 6:29.  His answer?  Be disciplined, work hard, feed the poor, love the unloveable, memorize the scriptures?  No.  All of these are good things, but they are secondary things.  The work we need to be doing in our faith is belief:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  The real battle for us is to remember and rely upon the seemingly unbelievable good news of the Gospel – that a good and all powerful God has made a way for rebellious creatures to return and be reconciled with Him.  We don’t forget this in our minds, but the glory of God & His gospel readily creeps out of our hearts.

Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation helps us to remember the staggering promises of the gospel by providing short, gospel saturated daily devotions that are aimed at penetrating the reader’s heart.  Paul Tripp, Ed Welch, Timothy S. Lane, William Smith, Michael Emlet, David Powlison and others share profoundly practical & impactful truths on subjects that include fear & anxiety, anger, contentment, faith, relationships, stress, suffering, identity and trials & suffering.  If you find yourself in the battle for belief, then Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives is an excellent resource to help you on your journey.  It is available from New Growth Press at their online store, Amazon or WTS Books.  You can sign up to win a free copy here.

Moses’ Farwell Address

The book of Deuteronomy is a sermon given by Moses just before the people cross the Jordan River and enter the promised land.  We can learn a lot from the man who met face to face with the Living God.  Here are a few things that stand out:

  • Moses intends to instruct and inspire the people that their God is both faithful and able to do what He says! Moses shows that God is faithful to a sinful people because of the promise that He made to Abraham. They are a people of His choosing, not because of their own effort, striving or obedience.
  • God’s sovereignty and grace are in focus. He is sovereign over all nations. He is gracious to those who do not deserve it.
  • Moses explains how the Law is the outflow of the Great Commandment given in 6:5 (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might).
  • “Deuteronomy constantly addresses the “heart” of its audience: embracing this law, seeking the good of this people, is the right response to God’s grace and the embodiment of virtue.”  ESV Study Bible
  • Moses recognizes that God must act in the heart of the Israelites if they are to be faithful.
  • Israel exists to love God with every fiber of their being which is the means by which the world will learn of the one true God.
  • Remembering God’s faithfulness & the people’s unfaithfulness AND looking forward to God’s continued faithfulness & warning the people not to fall in to idolatry.  The theology of Deuteronomy provides the fuel for the reforms instituted by Josiah in 2 Kings 23.
  • The heart and the need for full embodiment of the Law through heart felt affection and obedience.  Deuteronomy recognizes that God must move in the hearts of men if they are to faithfully obey Him and His law.
  • The Sovereign hand of the Almighty is in focus.  God provides Egypt as provision in the midst of drought to Joseph (who acknowledges the sovereign hand of God by working out for good, what his brothers meant for bad), God protects and raises up Moses – even raising him under Pharaoh’s own roof.  Then God calls Moses, who is weak of speech, to lead the people out of Egypt.  God commands control over all things with the plagues, parting the sea and provisions for His rebellious people in the wilderness.  He continues His display of His sovereignty as the people take the land.  It is not because they were faithful or special of their own doing, it is because He is mighty and will glorify His name.

You can stop striving

“though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:4–11 ESV)

Of all people, Paul had reason to place his confidence (faith, trust, reliance) in his own spiritual accomplishments and heritage, but he exchanges it all for a righteousness that is through faith (v9).  Paul’s pedigree was perfect and his ability to execute external religion was pristine.  Most of Paul’s resume falls on deaf ears to us.  Imagine the person who was born into a family with godly parents, who prayed a prayer to receive Christ as a youngster, attended church every time the doors were open, went to every youth camp and was practically perfect in executing all of the “externals” of Christianity.  They tithed, had a quiet time regularly, memorized scripture, went on mission trips, fed the poor and served dutifully.  Their identity, like Paul’s, is in where they came from and what they did instead of whose they were.  This was Paul, tirelessly attempting to earn a righteousness that was freely offered through faith.

Don’t brush over this.  Is this you?  Are you trying to do all the right things in lieu of completely relying on the finished work of Christ on your behalf?  Do you feel as though you need to obey flawlessly for God to love & approve of you?  Do you think that you need to add something to the righteousness that Jesus has given you in order to be pleasing to God?  Whenever we offer up our goodness to God as a reason for Him to love and approve of us, it evokes a repulsive action from the Creator of the cosmos (Isaiah 64:6).  Relying on our own righteousness is repulsive to a holy God who freely offers a righteousness that is by faith alone

Paul had a shift in what he relied upon to please God.  He now considered all of those externally “good things” as rubbish when compared to knowing God.  All things – religious performance, family heritage, moral striving, his own goodness – are now considered loss, indeed more than loss they are now rubbish, trash or dung when laid against the requirements of God.  This is the only appearance of this Greek word (skubalon) in the New Testament – it is dung or excrement – which is more than just worthless, it is repulsive.  Paul had shifted his reliance from himself & his ability to obey to Jesus and His perfectly obedient life & sacrificial death.

Paul says that all of his previous striving and pedigree were now loss.  But this is really no loss when compared with the gain that we have in Jesus:  right standing before God not based upon our abilities, heritage or performance, but by trusting solely in the finished work of Jesus.  The goal of this great exchange is to know God.  We get reconciled into a FAMILY relationship with the Creator!  Paul wants to follow Christ and taste what He tasted so that he can know the Savior more intimately v10-11.  This is the beauty of the Gospel, a good, holy and sovereign God has made a way to redeem His children to Himself – and this not based upon anything that we do, but on the undeserved favor of God.  If you’re a Christian, then you are forgiven, adopted and loved – not because of where you come from or what you do, but because of your older brother who has freely provided God’s forgiveness and approval for you.

Contentment is not the goal, it is a byproduct of the goal

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–13 ESV)

Paul is grateful for the Philippians’ gift to him & for their partnership in the gospel (1:5), but he has learned a contentment that transcends his external circumstances.  To be content means to be OK with the lot that we have in life or with the means that have been afforded to us, regardless of whether they are slim or plentiful.  However, we normally associate lacking contentment with being in need.  For most that are reading this, that is not the case – we have more than enough.  Paul said that he had learned the secret of finding contentment whether in abundance or in need.  So why is contentment, even when all of our basic needs are met, so difficult to obtain & experience?

Contentment looks different in abundance and in need.  When in need, there must be an abiding trust that God will provide all that is required for life.  This is a trust issue in the sovereign goodness of God.  When living in abundance, contentment is also difficult; it involves seeing Christ as more beautiful than anything else that is vying for our attention.  Becoming content is tied back to abiding in Christ and thinking on things that stir worship in our souls (4:4-7, see here & here).

When in abundance the risk is to treasure and look to created things as objects of our worship.  When we worship created things, we are looking for them to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul – something that they are incapable of doing because they were not designed to hold the weight of our worship.  Contentment, at its root is a worship problem.  When we have abundance in our lives – there are many shiny, new things to distract us from Ultimate realities.  When we latch on to all of the things around us as “necessary” things to make our lives worth living then we will never find contentment.  We will always be looking for the next gadget, car, house, spouse, accomplishment, pay raise, toy, relationship, experience or whatever.  But, the man who can learn to not place his trust in worldly wealth and can enjoy all things as a gift from God is a fortunate man: “as for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV).

We might think that the remedy to our discontentment is to sell all of our worldly possessions and move over seas to serve God.  This is not the remedy, this is just transferring the problem to a different venue.  You trusting in created things more than the Creator of all things is not a function of what you have, it is a function of what you believe is most worthy of your worship, praise & adoration.

So how did the apostle become content in all things?  Paul saw Christ as more glorious, more worthy, more spectacular than anything else the world had to offer (3:7-11).  The work is not to lower the value or allure of the things that compete for our affections – this will prove a fools errand as most can attest to.  The real secret of contentment is not in lowering other things, but in seeing Christ more clearly – seeing Him as so far above anything else that we are willing to joyfully exchange all things to have Him.

We need a yearning in our soul (like Paul had) that considers everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.  This is a supernatural act, this is not something that we muster up, this is something that is Holy Spirit wrought.  This puts us in a place of utter dependance upon God to do what only He can do in our souls.  This goes back to a place where we intentionally quiet ourselves and pray desperate prayers like, “enlighten the eyes of my heart, quicken my mind, help me to see things as they really are, make your kingdom come in ME, I do believe – help me with my unbelief.  Help me to taste and see that you are good, that in your presence is deepest satisfaction and that your steadfast love is better than life.”  Contentment is not the goal, it is a byproduct of the goal – which is to know the good, sovereign, Lord of the universe.  To lack contentment in one’s life is merely symptomatic of a deeper, heart problem; contentment is not the problem, the object of our worship is the problem.