Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who’s in Charge Here?

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I’m still actively working through this process with the Lord, in which I asked Him to help me hate my sin, and He has been answering in His own unique ways.

One fact struck me recently, and I’m sure it came from His Spirit.

I want to have God for my own, more than I want to be owned by Him. I want to hold the reins and steer towards God, instead of giving the reins to Him.


My thoughts on this subject reminded me of a devotional that I wrote years ago, on a different website. I want to reproduce it for you here.

I think the Lord must have been giving me today's topic, because I just about woke up with it. All morning I've been singing, "Jesus, You are My King." And I've been thinking about what it means to have Jesus as King.

There's a stubborn side of me, and I suspect that you may have a stubborn side too, if you're human like me. It's the side that says, "I don't want a king. I don't like the idea of being subject to anyone. I do my own thing, I'm my own person, I'm an adult, and no one can tell me what to do."

I think it is especially hard for us as Americans to swallow the idea of a king over us. When we think of it, we think of everything that can go wrong when a human being is given too much power. We live in a democracy, and if we don't like our leaders, we boot them out! Who needs a king with absolute authority? We kicked free from that sort of tyranny hundreds of years ago. We're proud of our independence as Americans, and rightly so. But that kind of thinking is so ingrained in my heart that it is hard for me to believe that Someone really has the right to tell me how to live every part of my life. It's oppressive to think about...if I'm thinking about it in my flesh.

How deceptive Satan is! He too is a ruler...not as powerful as our Lord, of course, but a ruler nonetheless. He rules the lives of all those who have not made Christ their king. (I don't mean to imply a limit to God's sovereignty, which of course extends to the lives of those who don't know Him. But God has, for a time, given Satan a realm of authority.) Those who do not obey God have not become independent as they think. They have simply become enslaved to other masters. This is even true of those of us who belong to Christ, but who have chosen for a time to wander. Even though we are God's children, like the prodigal son we choose to live just like the slaves of this world. And we find that what we thought would be a wonderful freedom turns out to be nothing of the kind. Satan lures us with delicious temptations, but "their end is death."

Some deceive themselves that they truly are independent, slaves neither to God nor Satan. Perhaps they deny the existence of both. But they do not understand that their own flesh is also a merciless slave driver which is never satisfied. The flesh hungers after power and pleasure, and never gets enough of either. In its relentless pursuit of its desires, it runs roughshod over everyone around us, and eventually ruins our lives as well. It reminds me of the rebellious youth, who declares his independence from his parents by enslaving himself to drugs, or alcohol, or nicotine. Soon he will do anything to satisfy the very cravings which will destroy him.

But we have to come to the point where we truly see and believe that Satan and our flesh are cruel taskmasters. Until we truly see that, we will continue to serve them willingly. And at the same time we will look at Christ and say, "We want no-one to rule over us!" How blind and foolish!

But what kind of tyrant is our Lord? What kind of slave driver is He? The King who came to serve, who died for us, who intercedes for us, who waits patiently for us to come to our senses, who lovingly disciplines us for our own good, who frees us from the law of sin and death...need I say more?

Yes, His authority is absolute. He is sovereign. And I'm so glad! Imagine a universe in which Satan, or even our own flesh, were sovereign. Such a monstrosity would self-destruct, and it would be a good thing for it to do so.

I must have a king, for I am only human. Who then is my king? Satan? My flesh? Lord help me to truly understand how awful such enslavement is. Then I will have such joy in my heart when I sing, "Jesus, You are my King!"

Blessings in our King,


That devotional touches something in my heart. I want to remember that I always have a master. It’s not a question of Christ versus my Autonomous Self ruling. It’s a question of Christ versus Satan/my sin-enslaved flesh ruling.

I don’t want to think in terms of "deciding to have a master." That still has negative connotations in my rebellious, non-trusting mind sometimes. Instead, I want to think of myself (realistically) as someone who has always had a master, but has had a change of ownership. I want to get to know this new Master better, because the news about Him is unspeakably good, and serving Him is true freedom!

Like Pilate, I find no fault in Him. But oh, let me not be like Pilate by refusing Him as my King anyway, even in some small degree!

Oh Lord, help me to truly surrender to You!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Burden-Bearer

Hannah Whitall Smith

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Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)writes in

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life:




Most Christians are like a man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him, and the driver kindly offered to help him on his journey. He joyfully accepted the offer, but when seated, continued to bend beneath his burden, which he still kept on his shoulders.

"Why do you not lay down your burden?" asked the kind-hearted driver.

"Oh!" replied the man, "I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting you carry my burden too."

And so Christians, who have given themselves into the care and keeping of the Lord Jesus, still continue to bend beneath the weight of their burden, and often go weary and heavy-laden throughout the whole length of their journey.

Since God carries me, He carries my burdens, too.  I may still feel the weight on my shoulders, but underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut. 33:27).

The question is, what do I do with the weight on my shoulders if I still feel it?

It’s been a while since I read The Christian’s Secret, so perhaps I need to read it again.  But it’s certainly too late to do that tonight, and I would like to throw this open and get some insights from all of you.  Not that I’m feeling particularly burdened by anything tonight (I’m not), but I often DO carry around burdens that I need to entrust more fully to His care.

What do you do in such cases?  Let’s get some good discussion going here!

(You can read The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life online for FREE here!)

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Drawing Conclusions in the Dark

York Minster in the Fog

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“We should never pass judgment in overwhelming hours. Let a man accept the verdict of his Lord, but never the verdict of his melancholy.

Hours come when everything seems wrong and when all the lights of heaven are blotted out, and how often, in such desolate hours, do we fall to judging the universe and God! It is part of the conduct of the instructed soul to resist that as a temptation of the devil. Such hours are always unreliable.

The things that frighten us in the night are the things we smile at in the morning. We are like that traveler who in the fog thought he saw a ghost; when it came nearer, he found it was a man; and when it came up to him, it was his brother.

Overwhelming times are times for leaning; God does not mean them to be times for judging. They are given to us for trusting; they are not given to us for summing up. Leave that till the darkness has departed and the dawn is on the hills, and in His light we see light again.”

G. H. Morrison (1866-1928)


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Monday, April 27, 2009

Burned Up

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So much for my Saturday night treat!

It looked like a science experiment gone horribly wrong. An attempt at recreating volcanic lava in the microwave, or maybe brewing up some sort of sludge for the next great “wonder fuel.”

It sure didn’t look like the same lovely chocolate fondue that I had intended to re-warm. Noxious smoke poured out of it, even long after I’d taken it out of the microwave and put it next to a hastily-opened window.

My husband and kids were already upstairs for the night, having a little father-son time before bed. They knew I had already put a roast in the crock pot for Sunday afternoon dinner, and they took turns debating the source of the horrible smell wafting from the kitchen. Middle Son came closest when he said, “It smells like a chocolate roast is burning!”

Smoke continued to billow, so I decided to stir the fondue to release some of the heat. That helped, and the smoke finally quit. Then, in a moment of genius that could only have been born in a sleep-deprived mind, I decided to put an ice cube in it.

Hissing, smoking, bubbling, popping, and spitting ensued (from the mug of fondue, not from me). Stirring helped things calm down again, so I put more ice in. Why should the fun end?

Really, it was rather fascinating to watch, but even so, it’s not an event I would like to re-create. The stench remains seared in my memory, and it stubbornly defies attempts to eradicate it from the microwave.

The micro’s “Sensor reheat” function isn’t supposed to turn fondue into magma, but things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to.

Aside from being an amusing change of pace, what’s this story doing in a “God-centered blog?”

It’s here because God sometimes turns up the heat on us. But unlike my microwave, He never turns the heat up higher than we can survive…by his grace.

People often say things like, “God gave you this trial because He knew you were strong enough for it,” but I defy you to find that concept in Scripture. He promises he won’t give us temptations above what we ourselves are able to bear, but he doesn’t say that about trials. And the Psalms are full of the prayers of people who are utterly overwhelmed by their hardships.

Been there? I have.

God says He refines us like silver or gold is refined…in a super-hot furnace (Jer. 9:7, Isa. 48:10). I don’t know about you, but I’m not cut out for furnaces. I can’t handle them.

I know, because I’ve been in them. And I didn’t do too well. Think “burnt fondue.” I may have gone in sweet (that’s debatable), but I came out smoking and spitting and bubbling; charred into oblivion and smelling awful.

Just the way God wanted me.

You see, He didn’t promise that He would only give me what I can handle. But that’s okay, because He won’t give me more than He can handle for me. I can be abased, I can be hungry, I can suffer need, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Php. 4:12-13). Don’t talk to me about my strength, unless you spell it with a capital “S.” Jesus Christ is my Strength (Ps. 118:14).

He also promised never to leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5), and to make sure I’m not destroyed by the trials of my life (Isa. 43:2). And He promised to carry me (Isa. 46:4).

What’s more, he promised to bring me out of the trials as something more precious than pure gold (1Pet. 1:6-7)!

Beth Moore puts it so beautifully when she says:

The burning bush was unusual because the bush was not consumed. Heb. 12:29 says our God is a consuming fire. God’s is the only fire that can consume an object without eventually destroying it.

Anger destroys. Rage destroys. Lust destroys.

God’s fire isn’t destructive. He doesn’t feed off of us. He is the I Am, the self-existent One. He invites us to feed off of Him. No other fiery passion in our souls will ever guard us from getting burned.

Could it be that the fire we feel is not really the fire of our trials, but the fire of His Holiness?

If you are a child of God, even the fire is for you, not against you. It is His fire, or else one allowed by Him. And He specializes in fixing ruined people, like the charred messes that you and I see in our mirrors.

Never mind the “burnt fondue smell” coming off of me sometimes! The dross is being burned away, so that only what is pure may remain.

Unfortunately, there’s enough dross left to last a lifetime. The pure gold won’t emerge until Heaven. But by the grace of God, I won’t be burned up…just burned clean.


The Beth Moore quote is from “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things” (partially paraphrased).

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

“In the Footsteps of Paul” – A Book Review

I have agreed to participate in the Book Review Blogger Program through Thomas Nelson Publishing.  I recently In the Footsteps of Paul received my review copy of the beautiful book entitled “In the Footsteps of Paul” by Ken Duncan, and I wanted to share my impressions with you. 

Overall, I would have to say that I enjoyed the book.  The pictures were beautifully composed and executed.  I found myself pleasantly surprised by the lovely landscapes, which were so different from much of my imagination.  I enjoyed looking at the old buildings that Paul himself (and even Christ) once touched, and the roads they once walked.

I also appreciated the quotes from the Bible and from other authors interspersed throughout. 

There is nothing earth-shattering in this book…no new insights that you never had before.  But it does help to give a new perspective to the narratives in the Word.  The photos are certainly far more meaningful than lines on a dry old map of Paul’s journeys.

One improvement I would suggest – an index of the names of the locations, so when we run across a place being mentioned in the Bible, we can easily find it in the book.  It is rather surprising that this was omitted.  I would also have enjoyed a Biblical Reference Index, showing where to find the photos from every place in the Word where they are mentioned.  Perhaps these will be included in the next edition.

If you enjoy beautiful photography and the ability to picture the scenes you read about, you will probably like this book.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Heart Check: Prideful Comparisons and Cherished Sins

ticker checker

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What do you do when you realize you still love certain sins?

It’s a vital thing to realize, you know.  We often consider ourselves victims of the sins that we can’t seem to overcome.  And I suppose in some small ways that may be true.  But at the heart of the matter, we’re less victims than we are lovers.

This past Sunday, my pastor pointed my thoughts in a direction that they really needed to go.  He was talking about forgiveness, and how pride interferes with it.  And though many truths from that sermon convicted me, one in particular stood out.

I still hate other people’s sin more than I hate my own.

But surely there’s a good reason why I struggle so much with bitterness!  Other people’s sins against me are so much worse than my sins, aren’t they?

Of course they aren’t.

God’s Word never tells us to compare our sins with anyone else’s.  Did you know that?  In fact, the Bible contains some powerful warnings about making comparisons at all.

For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (2Co. 10:12)

And of course Jesus warned us about such comparisons in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14).  If we consider ourselves better than other sinners, we’re putting ourselves in deadly peril.

But our proud hearts can even twist Scriptures like these, if we’re not careful.  Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “It isn’t right to make such comparisons, because then I would be focusing on how much better I am than so-and-so, and that would be prideful.”

Focusing on how much better I am?  No, no, absolutely not!  Until we understand that our sins are truly, without question, every bit as evil as our neighbors’ sins, we cannot repent of them as we should.  And we cannot forgive or love our neighbor as we are commanded to do.

If you protest right now that I wouldn’t say these things if I knew your neighbor, then you still don’t get it.

You say that your neighbor commits adultery?  Jesus says that our lustful thoughts are also adultery (Matt. 5:28).  You say that your neighbor was convicted of murder and is now awaiting lethal injection?  Jesus says that the hatred in our hearts is equivalent to murder.  What is awaiting us (Matt. 5:22)?  You say that your neighbor bows and prays to idols every day, or is into witchcraft?  God says that our rebellion is like witchcraft, and our stubbornness is like idolatry (1 Sam. 15:23).

Do you see how easily we deceive ourselves?  How easily we despise the sins we see in others, while we coddle and excuse and even cherish those same sins in our own secret places?  It’s easy to judge outward sins, while ignoring the root of all sins, which reside in our hearts.

What do you do when you discover that you truly love your sinful thoughts and attitudes, and you’re beginning to realize that you’re loving your own destroyer?

I’ll be honest…I’ve been struggling this week.  But it’s a struggle that’s an answer to prayer.  You see, I requested a painful thing from God.

I asked Him to help me to love Him more, and to help me see how horrible my heart-sins really are, so I could hate them as I should.

I won’t participate in “spiritual voyeurism” by going into all of the gory details of my soul, but suffice it to say that God’s answer has been coming in a way that is less than pleasant.

It reminds me of a fascinating verse from the Old Testament.

God left [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.  (2 Ch. 32:31b KJV)

Some translations make it seem that God wanted to know what was in Hezekiah’s heart, but since God knows everything, I’m more inclined to believe it the way the KJV has it.  I think God stepped back and left Hezekiah to his own devices, so that Hezekiah himself would see what was in his own heart.

Has God ever done that to you? 

Spurgeon comments on this verse:

If the grace of God should leave the best Christian, there is enough of sin in his heart to make him the worst of transgressors. If left to yourselves, you who are warmest for Christ would cool down like Laodicea into sickening lukewarmness: you who are sound in the faith would be white with the leprosy of false doctrine; you who now walk before the Lord in excellency and integrity would reel to and fro, and stagger with a drunkenness of evil passion. Like the moon, we borrow our light; bright as we are when grace shines on us, we are darkness itself when the Sun of Righteousness withdraws himself.

There are many times in our lives when we need encouragement more than we need conviction.  But the opposite is also true, and I’m in one of those times when conviction is what I need most.  Not a “guilt trip,” mind you, but a work of God’s Spirit which changes my loves and desires, re-orienting them away from sin and self and towards God.

I wouldn’t have chosen to go through this the way that God is doing it.  I was hoping more for warm fuzzy loving feelings for God to increase, accompanied by a hotter hatred for my sin which would make me recoil from it.  Instead, God seems to be taking the Hezekiah approach, in which He seems to withdraw, and I get a rather nasty view of my spiritual guts.  (I say, “Seems to withdraw” because God never truly withdraws from His children.  Heb. 13:5 assures us of that.)

Why am I even sharing this with you?  If you’re someone who sees me at church on Sunday, you wouldn’t necessarily ever know about this.  It doesn’t “show,” at least not on casual inspection.

(Or maybe it does, and I’m just kidding myself.  I don’t know.)

Anyway, I’m sharing this because I’m certain I’m not the only one who ever goes through such things.  And I’m sharing it because sometimes love just has to be tenacious.  It has to hang on in the absence of feeling. 

I don’t feel warm and fuzzy towards God right now.  And my spiritual guts are ugly.  But God is still good.  He is still worthy.  He is still on His throne.  He is Holy, and righteous, and just and true.  He is the source of all joy, all peace, all hope, all that we need or could ever desire.  He faithfully walks with us through our valleys and brings us back to green pastures beside still waters.

And affirming God’s worth is what this blog is all about.

Can you help me with that goal?  I’d love to read some of your comments about how God has helped you in this area.


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Sunday, April 19, 2009

How to Almost Empty Your Pews

I saw this today in John Piper’s “Desiring God” blog, and I absolutely love it.

God loves you and has a wonderful plan

What do you think?  Should you suggest this for your church’s next promotional campaign?

Perhaps you should.  What would happen, do you suppose? 

What would happen if, instead of just a catchy poster, this were the reality of life in our society?  What if faithfulness to Christ really did put people at grave risk?

You certainly couldn’t attract those who are looking for their best life now.  Why would they want to emulate the martyrs of old who missed out on God’s blessings of wealth and ease?

You’d never pack your pews with those who come just for the music and the socialization.  Those things can be had more safely elsewhere.

Gone would be the ones who go to church to make business contacts, or who go simply out of habit.

But don’t misunderstand.  The people who stay are not going to be the cream of the crop, humanly speaking (1 Co. 1:26-29).  They won’t be able to boast about their faithfulness.  They’re no better in their flesh than those who leave.  So why would they stay?

I’ll tell you why.  It’s not because of who they are.  It’s because of Who they’ve found.

The ones who stay and the ones who leave will both be looking out for their highest happiness.  It’s just that some believe that the highest happiness is found in human comforts, and some believe it’s found in The God of All Comfort (2 Co. 1:3).

Some believe that money is God, and Jesus is good as long as He gives us money.  Others believe that Jesus is God, and forsake the love of money.

Some pursue godliness as a means of gain (1 Tim. 6:5), and some believe that godliness itself is gain (1 Tim. 6:6).

And once again, the difference between the two is not a matter for boasting.  What right does anyone have to boast about what God has shown them (1 Co. 4:7), especially when He says that He hides things from the wise and reveals them to infants (Matt. 11:25), and chooses foolish nothings to put the wise to shame (1 Co. 1:27)?  God does according to His good pleasure, and if He has allowed His light to shine in our hearts (2 Co. 4:6), how can we boast in that (Rom. 3:27)?  We “foolish nothings” did nothing to deserve it.

So does God have a wonderful plan for His people’s lives?  Of course He does!  And one of those wonderful plans might be the chance to show His worth to a watching world by choosing Him above your own ease, your own comfort, or even your own life’s blood.

Shame on those who proclaim that the worth of Christ is based on His ability to line your path with rose petals and your coffers with gold!  Those who truly honor Him are the ones who consider comfort and wealth to be “dung” compared to the excellence of knowing Him (The word translated “rubbish” in Php. 3:8 is really the word for “dung”)!

Do you know this Jesus, the one who is better than any worldly wealth?  The one who is our eternal life (John 17:3)?  If not, confess to Him that you have loved the things of this world more than Him.  Ask Him to shine His light in your heart and show you His infinite worth.  Ask Him to forgive your sin and turn your heart into one that loves Him supremely.  Acknowledge Him as your King, to whom you owe unquestioning and unconditional loyalty. 

A mere handful of such lovers of God will please Him more than teeming thousands of self-lovers who mouth words of praise on Sunday mornings.

May His glorious worth be preached at any cost, yes, at great cost, even if it does almost empty the pews.  God would rather have a small army that draws its strength from Him, than a large one that relies on its own power (Jdg. 7:2-7).

You and I are nobodies, and we could not earn the privilege of suffering for Him.  But it’s not about us, it’s about Him.  He is the Almighty, Holy, Eternally Glorious One.  He is the wonderful plan for our lives, and He is worth it all!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Of Fairy Tales, Wolves, and Happy Endings

Susan Boyle

Image by Bert Kommerij via Flickr

I almost never watch TV any more, so I probably never would have heard of Susan Boyle if someone hadn’t posted a link on Facebook.

I confess, I’ve watched the YouTube video at least five times in the past few days. Sometimes it has even made me weep.

Sure, it has all the appeal of a Cinderella story. An unknown woman with a less-than-polished stage presence faces the sneers of a cynical crowd, then brings them to their feet with her stunning singing voice. When she’s through dazzling everyone, she turns right back into the awkward 47-year-old who admits she’s never dated or been kissed. And yet the crowd who once mocked her now loves her. She is an overnight global sensation who sits in humble awe, calling her success “a miracle” because she truly doesn’t realize how phenomenal she is. What story could be better?

Oh, but wait, it does get better! Because she lives in an unattractive house in a little Scottish village, the same house she grew up in. The house where she gave up her dreams of a singing career to take care of her parents until their deaths.

A dream died and was resurrected for a dutiful, loving daughter. It’s perfect.

I admit, I love it. I hope for the absolute best for her.

But as I thought about her today, I found myself developing an almost maternal concern for her (even though she’s a few years older than I am). I even found myself praying for her, that God would protect her from the hazards of this newfound fame.

The wolves will be circling, especially the men who want bragging rights for giving Susan Boyle her first kiss. She could be used and abused and hurt pretty badly, especially since the sudden rush of adulation and offers would leave anyone reeling and prone to uncharacteristically foolish decisions.

Isn’t that sad? In a perfect world, as in the fairy tales we love, that one big break always leads to “happily ever after.” And I hope it does for Susan. But the truth of the matter is, we all have an enemy…a spiritual enemy who loves to take the good things that God gives to us, and turn them against us.

As I pondered this fact, and the perils of sudden success, it occurred to me that we all have received gifts from God. Not all are as stunning as the voice which He gave to Susan, but all are perfectly suited for the role that He wants us to play in the world.

And our enemy can see them as well as we can, if not better. He marshals his forces against us right there, where God has placed our gifts.

That means you and I have hazards to face which are specific to us, to our gifts and our circumstances. And some of those dangers remain hidden like landmines, ready to explode when we experience success.

The other day I was talking to a friend about where she wants her budding ministry to go, and I heard myself saying, “God may protect you from too much success in that area until you’re ready to have it without letting it go to your head.” And even as I said it, I thought of how I feel about my blog, and how few people ever read the words I write.

Is God protecting me from too much success, because I’m not ready to handle it yet?

Now, maybe some of you bold, adventurous types might not be able to relate to this, but I love the idea of being protected. I love the picture of God as my Heavenly Father, keeping me safe from the jaws of the ravenous wolves.

Pride is one of the worst carnivores out there, but there are certainly other problems that accompany success. My Father sees them all, even though I don’t.

Am I prepared to be content with however small my blog may be, trusting God that it’s just the right size for now?

Are you prepared to trust God for what He does with your gifts?

Can you and I thank God together for how He’s using us now, even if it’s not what we’d dreamed of? And can we pray that He’ll prepare us to face the challenges of being used in greater ways without becoming some lurking wolf’s lunch?

Can we thank Him for the “Happily Ever After,” even though we may not see it until we get to Heaven?

And while we’re at it, maybe we can lift up a prayer or two for Susan Boyle of West Lothian, Scotland. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t help caring about her.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Counting the Cost and Forsaking All

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For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
(Luke 14:28-33)

There’s some hard words from Jesus!  But what do they mean?

I’ve heard this passage taught as a call to self-reliant toughness, to making sure you have what it takes to succeed as a Christian.  “Take stock of yourself.  Are you good enough?  Can God count on you?”

The problem is, that teaching is the antithesis of God-reliance.  It appeals to pride, not to humility.  And nothing which appeals to pride could come from our Lord, who resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)!

So what is Jesus talking about?

I think the key comes from the last verse in the passage, and the key turns on the word “likewise.”

Likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has…

Now wait just a minute…the word “likewise” is supposed to connect two ideas by drawing on a similarity between them.  It means, “In the same way.”  But Jesus went from talking about seeing if you’ve got what it takes, to talking about forsaking what you have!  Where’s the “likewise” in that?  How is “forsaking all that you have” done in the same way with “counting the cost?”

Oh, how confusing the Bible can be when we look at it from a man-centered viewpoint, and how much clearer everything becomes when we take a God-centered approach!

Man-centeredness looks to self for strength, for success, for sufficiency.  God-centeredness looks to God for these things.  Man-centeredness says, “I am everything.”  God-centeredness says, “I am nothing, but God is everything!”

Look back at the passage.  Is it coming clearer yet?

What is Jesus saying to the would-be tower builder?  What is He saying to the king?

“Tower builder…do you have what it takes?  People will mock you if you aren’t able to finish.”

Boy, this is a bummer!  Modern-day health and wealth preachers would never take this approach!  Isn’t God here to stroke our egos, to bolster our self-esteem, and to assure us that we really do have what it takes?  Isn’t He supposed to encourage us with a vision of our success, not warn us about our failure?

What do you think?  As you’re pondering the question, you might want to look at something else Jesus said:

“Without Me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:5b)

While you’re chewing on that, let’s think about what Jesus said next in the parable.  I’ll paraphrase it.

“Hey, King, the enemy has a whole lot more soldiers than you have.  You’d better start thinking about finding out his terms for surrender.”

Now, some may accuse me of looking at this passage in an unnecessarily negative light.  Is Jesus really assuming our failure here, or is He just warning us about the possible consequences if we fail?  Why look at it so negatively?

I think we have to look at it in this “negative” way if we’re going to be true to the text, especially if we’re going to deal with that pesky little “likewise.”

Likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has…

The only way we can make sense of this “likewise” is to draw the conclusion that the tower builder and the king were supposed to forsake all that they have, and we are to do the same.

The tower builder is supposed to forsake his plans, because he sees he doesn’t have enough money. 

The king is supposed to find out the terms of surrender, because he realizes he can’t defeat his enemy.  He’s supposed to give up his throne to the opposing king, on that king’s terms, in order to save his neck.

Who is the enemy (the opposing king with his bigger army) in this parable?  According to everything I can figure out, the enemy is God Himself. 

Now, before you accuse me of being really depressing (or even heretical), think about this in light of the following verse:

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works…(Col. 1:21a).

We are all enemies of God before we’re saved, and the best thing that can happen to us is to surrender.  To be reconciled and make peace with Him.  To be made holy, blameless, and above reproach in His sight.  That’s how the above passage ends.

And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight (Col. 1:21-22)

In other words, Jesus is urging us to forsake all of our own ideas of saving ourselves, and to cast ourselves helplessly at His feet to ask for His mercy.  What’s more, we’re to forsake all self-sufficiency and surrender all of our plans to Him, because we cannot build our towers (or our lives) on our own.  We don’t have what it takes. 

Oh, we may be able to succeed in our own eyes, and in the eyes of those around us.  But then comes Judgment Day, when all of our works will be tested in the fire.  Our manmade “towers” will burn up, because they were constructed of flammable things like wood, hay, and straw.  But whatever we build through His Spirit’s power will stand the test, for it will be made of gold, silver, and precious stones (1 Co. 3:11-13).

Jesus’ parable was anything but a call to self-sufficiency and “making sure you have what it takes!”  (After all, the Pharisees had convinced themselves that they had what it takes, and Jesus wasn’t impressed with them at all!)  He’s telling us to take an honest look at ourselves and see that we don’t have what it takes, until we are forced to cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-14)

Does this sound like bad news to you?  Depressing, maybe?  Then perhaps you need to ask God to open your eyes to the eternal value of things.  You may find that what you’re clinging to is truly worthless, and what He offers you is immeasurably precious!

God gives wonderful promises to those who forsake all in order to take hold of Him (Matt. 19:29, for example).  And the apostles affirmed His worth as they forsook all…most even giving their life’s blood (Php. 3:7-10, Rom. 8:18, and more).

Do you really want to have what it takes?  Then forsake all hopes of finding it in yourself, and find it in Him instead.  For:

“Without Me you can do nothing.”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

(John 15:5b, Php. 4:13)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Come and Rest

laundry 2 To every toiling, heavy-laden sinner, Jesus says, “Come to me and rest.”  But there are many toiling, heavy-laden believers, too.  For them this same invitation is meant.  It is not, “Go, labor on,” as perhaps you imagine.  On the contrary, it is stop, turn back, “Come to me and rest.”  Never, never did Christ send a heavy laden one to work; never, never did He send a hungry one, a weary one, a sick or sorrowing one, away on any service.  For such the Bible only says, “Come, come, come.”

Hudson Taylor

I recently had the privilege of reading Jennifer’s wonderful post about the Sabbath on the Reformed Sheology website, and it spoke to my heart in a very relevant way.  Go ahead on over and read it, and then come back here, okay?  I’ll wait for you.

You’re back?  Good. 

I loved the way Jennifer said,

“We often only consider [the Sabbath] question in terms of two choices: Saturday or Sunday. But I believe there is a third option, one that we almost never even consider, because we are too busy focusing on the wrong thing. You see, I believe God changed the Sabbath from a day to a Person. That's right: God changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Jesus Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

Christ is our rest!

While Jennifer focused on “resting” in Christ as it relates to our salvation, I felt it more deeply as it relates to our daily walk.  You see, while I have grappled with many deep theological issues, and I have come to a richer faith in my mind, my heart is still playing catch-up.  And though it has come a long way, it still knows far too little rest. 

I worry.

I fuss.

I fret.

I fume.

And what’s more, I feel proud of those things.  Not consciously, of course.  But when I start to try to rest in Christ, I immediately accuse myself of being irresponsible and lackadaisical.  And that must mean that I consider all of my worrying and fretting and fuming to be responsible behavior.

Can you see me?  I’m clunking the heel of my hand against my forehead.  DUH!

Jesus promised that those who come to Him would find rest (Matt. 11:28).  He told us not to worry, because our worrying is faithless and futile (Matt. 6:25-34).  I’ve known those verses since I was a little girl.

I’ve known them in my head, that is.  But like the men on the road to Emmaus, I am foolish and slow of heart (Luke 24:25).

It’s beginning to dawn on me that, not only am I commanded to stop worrying, but I’m given permission to be at rest!

That’s a cool thought, because I tend to “stress out” about commands, even the command to stop worrying!  But permission to be at rest…that sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

It’s okay, Betsy,” my Father reassures me.  “I can run the universe without your help.”

My heart balks.  “But Lord, You have work for me to do, I know it!  I can’t just spend the rest of my earthly life on spiritual vacation, can I?”

“No,” He reminds me.  “I gave you a light and easy yoke, not a light and easy beach umbrella.  Yokes are for working.  But it’s My yoke.  I bear most of the weight.  And if you want to have the strength to carry your end, you’ll need to have My joy for your strength (Neh. 8:10).  Come to Me, take My yoke, and I will give you rest!” 

Wow.  I may have heard this sort of thing before, but it never sank in.  It couldn’t sink in, because I heard it as a call to frivolity.

The funny thing is, I tend to do far too little work!  I fear frivolity…and yet I engage in far too much of it.  Why?  Because the yoke I’ve been contemplating has not been easy, nor has the burden looked light. 

I know I need to take life’s responsibilities seriously, and I do so in the form of reading and writing and studying.  But in the actual business of physical working, while I know I need to be serious, I usually back away.  What with chronic back pain and generally low physical stamina, all physical work is daunting.  And when “I need to” meets “I can’t,” or even “I don’t think I can,” the result is paralysis.  And escapism. 

But though my physical problems are real and have an impact, most of my burden is not physical.  Most of it is mental and emotional.  And that’s a burden I’m not supposed to be carrying (Ps. 55:22).

If I had the Sabbath in my heart…the restfulness of God’s Spirit (Ps. 37:7), the joy of the Lord (Php. 4:4), the peace of God which is to rule in our hearts (Col. 3:15) and which surpasses understanding (Php. 4:7)…if I had all of those things, how much more readily could I face the demands of life?  How many of them could I actually meet?

I need more of that kind of Sabbath!

Can any of you out there relate?

(John Piper preached a wonderful sermon called, “Are You Humble Enough To Be Carefree?”  It shows clearly how much pride factors in to our insistence on worrying.  I hope you’ll check it out.)


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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Could It Be True?

The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resrurrection by Eugene Burnand

Look at their faces.

Can you feel it?


Hope so recently, so cruelly pummeled into the dirt, buried and sealed tightly along with the corpse of a once-trusted man…does this Hope dare rise again?

Perhaps…God help us, perhaps…but only if He rose.

Could it be true?

Hope twitches, and I cringe. Some dead things are best allowed to lie still. Death is numb, and numbness is what I need…what we all need right now.

Few things cause more agony in their dying than Hope Betrayed. If it arises, only to die again, the torture will be more than our souls can bear.

Hush now, Hope. Be still. The women must be mad, driven to this delusion by the stirrings of their own Hopes. Don’t believe them. It can’t be true. The dead don’t rise.

We look at one another, Peter and I. Our salt-encrusted cheeks have felt more tears than grown men should ever cry, and yet we have not stopped. We cannot stop.

Jesus. Our Jesus. Dead. Gone.

A deceiver. Or at best, a deluded man. And what are we, that we followed Him?

And Peter…poor Peter. His eyes hold more hollow grief than mine, I think. I wouldn’t dream of mentioning it to him, but of course I know. We all know.

“I do not know the man!” He swore it. And those words will haunt him to his grave.

Did any of us know Him, really? After all, we thought…we believed…

Dare we believe again?

My heart quickens, and I jump to my feet. “Peter, we must…”

I can’t finish the sentence. I want him to think that it’s all about someone stealing the body, but it’s more than that to me. I know it’s madness. I don’t want to hear my own voice affirming this hopeless Hope, especially if it means awakening that cruel trickster in the heart of poor Peter.

And yet I can’t sit back down. I don’t know any more if we must go to the tomb. But I know that I must. At least if I go, and I find the tomb undisturbed, I’ll be able to kill Hope for good.

And if I find it empty…

No, I can’t think about that. Because even if it’s empty, it may only be teasing me. Someone could have taken His body, and we might never know…

I shudder. Hope Betrayed is horrible, but could anything be worse than a lifetime of Hope Tantalized?

Dear God, why are You doing this to us? Did we sin against You by believing in this Man?

I believed. More than believed. I loved

Peter’s haunted eyes finally look back up to mine. And what he sees there makes some of his old spark return.

“Yes,” he nods. “We must.”

Our feet start slowly, but soon pick up the pace. Love pulls. It hopes, even when hope is folly.

We don’t speak to one another, Peter and I. There’s no point. Either we’re two friends looking for another friend’s body, or we’re two fools on a fools’ errand. What needs to be said?

We loved Him. He deserves no less than one last, wild offering of our hope. If that makes us fools, then fools we will be.

Men have been fools for less.

By now we’re running, and I can’t help wondering if Peter is daring to entertain the same insane hope that I’m feeling.

Hush, Hope. Be still…

We round that last familiar curve and stop in our tracks. The tomb stands open, and the guards are gone.

Peter remains fixed in his place, but I am driven to go in. I see the grave clothes, still wrapped, but with no body inside of them.


And then I see the handkerchief that had been wrapped around His head. It’s not with the rest of the grave clothes. No, it’s lying, neatly folded, off to one side.

Neatly folded…

In my heart’s eye I see Him. Oh, so typical! He did all things well, whether it was neatly folding His cloak before laying it aside, or healing the sick, or washing our feet, or raising the dead…

I drop to my knees. Raising the dead!

I see Peter now standing beside me, and I no longer care to hide my Hope, even from him. I am laughing and crying all at once; hope and joy and faith and love all hammering in my chest until I can only sob.

I can’t prove it, but I know. Love knows.

He lives, He lives, HE LIVES!


Thank you to Ann Voskamp of Holy Experience for introducing me to this wonderful painting. It helped bring out the words I needed to say today, and I hope they were a blessing to my readers as well.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Requiem (A Medley of Scripture and Hymn)

Crown of Thorns by SCapture

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he who had died came out...

"I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."

“Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God.’”

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! God is the LORD, and He has given us light; bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, which has horns and hooves. The humble shall see this and be glad; and you who seek God, your hearts shall live.

Crown of Thorns by SCapture

Oh sacred head, now wounded

With grief and shame weighed down

Now scornfully surrounded

With thorns Thine only crown;

How art Thou pale with anguish,

With sore abuse and scorn!

How doth that visage languish

Which once was bright as morn!

“I am feeble and severely broken. My heart pants, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my relatives stand afar off. I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children.” (For even His brothers did not believe in Him. All His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.)

“I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me ridicule me, saying, ‘He trusted in the LORD; let Him rescue Him. Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him.’”

Even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ.”

“They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. Dogs have surrounded me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it has melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.”

Crown of Thorns by SCapture

What Thou my Lord hast suffered

‘Twas all for sinners’ gain

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But Thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘Tis I deserve Thy place;

Look on me with Thy favor,

Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

“Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

“But You are He who took me out of the womb; You made me trust while on my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon you from birth; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help. In You, O LORD, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God. But my enemies are vigorous, and they are strong; and those who hate me wrongfully have multiplied. Those also who render evil for good, they are my adversaries, because I follow what is good. Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on Me.

“But You, O LORD, do not be far from me; O my Strength, hasten to help me! I am poor and sorrowful; let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high. Do not forsake me, O LORD; O my God, be not far from me!”


Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Crown of Thorns by SCapture

What language shall I borrow

To thank Thee, dearest Friend,

For this, Thy dying sorrow,

Thy pity without end?

Oh make me Thine forever,

And should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

Outlive my love for Thee.



The hymn: “Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded” by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676).

The Scripture references, in order of use:

John 1:4

John 10:10

John 11:43-44

John 10:17-18

Ps. 40:6-8

Ps. 118:22-24

Ps. 118:26-27

Ps. 69:31-32

Ps. 38:8

Ps. 38:10-11

Ps. 69:8

John 7:5

Luke 23:49

Ps. 22:6-8

Luke 23:35

Ps. 22:18

Ps. 22.16

Ps. 22:14-15

Ps. 69:20-21

Ps. 22:9-11

Ps. 38:15

Ps. 38:19-20

Ps. 69:9

Ps. 22:19

Ps 69:29

Ps. 38:21

Mark 15:34

Isa. 53:10-12

(All Scriptures used were chosen because the New Testament identified them as Messianic prophecies, or because they were found in context with such prophecies.)

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