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Addition by Subtraction

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It was the year 1636. Amid the darkness of the Thirty Years’ War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, is said to have buried five thousand of his parishioners in one year. This was an average of fifteen funerals a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster.In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote this table grace for his children:

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath led us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.

Here was a man of God who knew thanksgiving comes from love of God. He understood that contentment comes, not from his surrounding circumstances, but from resting upon the perfect provision of a Sovereign God whose provision is perfect.

We each live in a time and place where those types of circumstances are so foreign to us. We can’t even begin to imagine what it means to suffer, to be persecuted, to have thousands perish in one day. Oh, we read about these things in the newspaper. We see graphic images flash before us as we surf our big screen televisions in the comfort of our climate controlled living rooms: earthquakes in Turkey – mass murders in Chechnya – Christians worshiping in clandestine house churches in China for fear of persecution – pastors gunned down in Bogotá – murders and church burnings in India – hundreds of thousands dying of starvation in North Korea – all while we casually complain that what we have is not enough. We’re too hot (or too cold). We don’t have enough food or the food we have is not what we want. We want bigger houses, more name brand clothes, more free time, more money in the bank, bigger SUV’s, more, more, more. . . And all this from people who call themselves Christians. Where is the contentment?

That word – contentment – is an interesting one as it is used in the Greek text of the New Testament. It is actually a compound word consisting of the words “self” + sufficiency.”  By the world’s standards it does seem that contentment is derived from surrounding one’s self with sufficient material goods and wealth. But what do the Scriptures say about contentment?

Jesus while talking with some soldiers said, “. . . be content with your wages” (Luke 3:15). Paul said to Timothy, “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content’ (1 Timothy 6:8). The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “Let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have. . . (Heb. 13:5).

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) a puritan preacher and a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge understood persecution. He had fled from the Laudian persecution in the 1630’s to a congregation in Rotterdam where he was a ‘teacher’ of an English congregation. A prominent participant in the Westminster Assembly of divines, he wrote a treatise on contentment titled, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (1648).

His concern was to promote peace and contentment in the hearts of individual believers during what he described as ‘sad and sinking times’.  In it he says, “. . . one who is contented in a Christian way is . . the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world. . . A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world. He is contented if he has but a crust, but bread and water. . . he can be satisfied with God’s disposal in that. . . yet if God should give unto him Kingdoms and Empires, all the world to rule, if he should give it him for his portion, he would not be satisfied with that. . . The men of the world seek after wealth, and think if they had thus much, and thus much, they would be content. . . But a gracious heart says that if he had ten hundred thousand times so much a year, it would not satisfy him. . . and yet this man can sing, and be merry and joyful when he has only a crust of bread and a little water in the world. . . A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God” (p. 42-43).

He goes on to say that “a Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. . . The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires. Certainly that man or woman is rich, who have their desires satisfied. Now a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfies them, that is all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstances are for the present the best circumstances. So he comes to this contentment by way of subtraction, and not addition” ( 46-47).

Burroughs says, “A gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires into God’s will and desires. . . So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing the he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God’s will. This is a small degree higher than submitting to the will of God. You all say that you should submit to God’s will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God’s will and his own the same. It is said of believers that they are joined to the Lord, and are one spirit; that means, that whatever God’s will is, I do not only see good reason to submit to it, but God’s will is my will. When the soul can make over, as it were, its will to God, it must needs be contented” (p. 53).

So the Apostle Paul can say, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. . . I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

That contentment, that “self-sufficiency” comes from the sufficiency of One found within ourselves, through faith in Jesus Christ who, through the power of His Spirit, gives us strength as we throw ourselves upon Him, finding contentment in God’s perfect provision.Would you call yourself a contented person? Are you contented with where you live? With where God has you right now? With what you have? With your income level? With the amount of food on your table or in your cupboard? Our grumbling and complaining about all these things (and more) is evidence of our discontentment. What is frightening is that we are admitting that God’s provision is not sufficient to meet all our needs. And that, my friends, is sin. . .

Almighty God and Heavenly Father, Perfect Provider, Sovereign Sustainer, we admit our sin of “self-sufficiency.” We pray “give us this day our daily bread” and immediately turn to our own inadequate resources as we make plans for tomorrow’s comfort. Forgive us, Oh Lord, we pray, for not trusting in your perfectly complete provision of the day. You give meat and bread in due season. You open your hands to fill our hands with the abundance of your eternal blessings only to find our hands are full of our own self-sufficiency. Forgive us for our discontentment and lack of faithful trust in You who perfectly provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Are we not, created in Your image, more valuable to you than these? Too often we forget that life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. May we be ever reminded that our sufficiency is to be found in your perfect provision, the sacrifice of your Son who is the True Bread from heaven, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Pastor Mark

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Categories: Christian Living

The “H” Word

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,
but with humility of mind regard one another
as more important than yourselves…”

Philippians 2:3
 
 

 

Greetings in the Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

I wonder, have you every stopped to think about the irony of so many of the realities found in God’s Word? Just think about it….

  • In order to live you must die (Romans 8:13).
  • The first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 19:30).
  • The least in God’s kingdom are considered the greatest (Luke 9:48).
  • We must become blind in order to see (John 9:39).
  • The humble will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low (Matthew 23:12).

Paul says in verse one of Philippians chapter 2: “…if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion…” all these things are made complete in one thing: HUMILITY. He reminds us that our unity and common purpose are built upon the solid foundation of “humility of mind…regarding one another as more important than ourselves.”

God calls us to live as Christ who humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on the cross. The king of heaven became a suffering servant. He veiled His robes of majesty with the lowly rags of humanity so he might be exalted above all for the salvation of the many. The one who descended into the depths of this earth has been raised to the highest heavens. The one who kneeled to wash the feet of his disciples now sits at the right hand of God the Father. He who was beaten, cursed, scorned, and killed now reigns on high, holding the sword of judgment and offers the olive branch of peace….this is the one whose footsteps we are called to follow.

We speak of this aspect of Christ, the King’s life, as His humiliation. His being born, in a low condition; His submitting willingly to the demands of the law; His undergoing the miseries of this life; His experiencing the wrath of God against disobedience; His cursed death upon the cross; His being buried and continuing under the power of death for a time. He who “existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to grasped, but emptied Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The one who knew no sin became sin for us. He muttered no complaint. The King of Kings became the Servant of servants.

“Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord. Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)

“There are six things the Lord hates, yes seven which are an abomination to Him….haughty eyes….” (Prov. 6:16)

God is not pleased with us when we try to maneuver ourselves into positions where we think we might be noticed and receive praise. He is pleased when we are clothed by faithful humility in Christ’s righteousness. God loves the Davids, the Jeremiahs, the Johns, and the Mary’s of this world – he frowns upon the Sauls, the pharaohs, the Nebuchadnezzars and the Herods…..

Those who seek after their own selves, who think highly of themselves, who seek to exalt themselves even above God will not hear those blessed words, “In you I am well pleased.” But will only hear “away from me for I never knew you.”

Andrew Murray defines humility as “…perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.”

The proud imagine themselves to be greater than they really are. Like Pharoah, they laugh at God and ask “Who is the Lord?” It took the crashing waves of the Red Sea for this proud man to discover the answer. Pharoah’s pride was in his power. But pride can also be in beauty, our talents, and abilities, our position, our goodness, our ability to help and to serve. The ugly head of the serpent of pride can even be found in an expectation of “Thanks” for something we may have done. Whatever the source, be aware that at the center of PRIDE is the singular “I” of self, a self that has forgotten that it is but dust held together by a God of grace and power. We have nothing that we haven’t received from Him. We are nothing, but what we are in Him!

Each of those God calls as His children are also called to be servants. And as servants, your primary duty is obedience borne out of your love for the One who calls you. But you must remember that even this obedience is powered by God’s abundant grace poured out upon you in Christ Jesus. Faithful obedience that looks for a “Thank You” or a “Way to go” pat on the back or an exuberant “high-five” is motivated by pride, not humble service. It is moved along by self, not selfless service. It was as Christ humbled himself becoming obedient even to the point of death, that “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

It is through your humble obedience even in the midst of performing those “thankless” and “unnoticed” tasks that those you serve will see Christ in you. They will be compelled to confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

O Lord,
I am a shell full of dust, but animated with an invisible rational soul and made anew by an unseen power of grace; Yet I am no rare object of valuable price, but one that has nothing and is nothing, although chosen of thee from eternity, given to Christ, and born again; I am deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state, of the vanity of creatures, but also of the sufficiency of Christ. When thou wouldst guide me I control myself, When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself. When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself. When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself, When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will, When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself; I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself, Instead of thee I look to man’s approbation, and am by nature an idolater. Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee. Convince me that I cannot be my own god, or make myself happy, nor my own Christ to restore my joy, nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me. Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction, for when my credit is god thou dost cast me lower, when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away, when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness. Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart; Show me that none of these things can heal a wounded conscience, or support a tottering frame, or uphold a departing spirit. Then take me to the cross and leave me there.
From The Valley of Vision – A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Authur Bennett

Pastor Mark

Come Let Us Worship . . .

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God,
and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools….

Ecclesiastes 5:1
 
 
 Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

For the past year and a half I have been preaching through the monumental book of Revelation during our Sunday Morning time of Worship.  I must admit there are many parts of that book that will remain shrouded in mystery until that time when we meet Jesus at his return and are able to ask Him to clarify those things signified in His apocalyptic words.

Oh, there is certainly that promise of blessing to those who read and those who hear and heed the words of this prophecy (Rev. 1:3). Since obedience must follow understanding, we can be assured that there is much within John’s inspired revelatory words that is understandable.

The themes of the sovereignty of God, of Christ as conqueror, and the Spirit’s powerful presence are golden threads running through the crimson fabric of the Lamb’s sacrifice. The theme of worship and honor and glory and praise are woven into that fabric so those who read and hear are able to clearly understand that the highest calling of the saints of all ages is to come before our Triune God bringing uninhibited worship to Him who sits on the throne in sovereign rule and power and authority.

Revelation 4 and 5 remind me of one of those greeting cards that has a message stored on a voice recorder. As we open these two chapters and read the message of encouragement we can also hear the crescendo of voices, first of the four living creatures, then of the twenty four elders, now the harps and the voice of myriad of myriads and thousands of thousands of angels added to the voice of every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them saying:

“To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

What a glorious encouragement this ought to be to each of us to come before that same throne of grace in a time of corporate worship and adoration with the saints of all ages.

Why is it then that all too often we enter public worship so distracted by worldly concerns? Have you ever found the preacher’s words flying in one ear and out the other, leaving no discernible impression on your mind and heart? Do you find it difficult to concentrate in prayer because your thoughts so easily wander? There is probably not one reading this who has not experienced distraction and coldness of heart in worship and prayer.

The tragedy lies in those who attend church week after week without realizing the vanity of their own worship. They might sense that something is wrong, but instead of looking inward, they seek to blame their lethargy on everything and everyone else. The pastor isn’t interesting enough. The music doesn’t stir their soul. Worship is just not exciting! And on and on ad nauseum…. If these complaints sound familiar, maybe you need to examine your own heart instead of trying to find aesthetic or sentimental satisfaction in those things that are not the essence of worship. It has been said that a church will find true spiritual vitality if only it were gripped by the holiness and the majesty of God in worship.

This is exactly what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is driving at. He exhorts God’s people to stand in awe of God. Worship should never be entered into with levity or distraction, but with sobriety, humility, and reverence. We ought to enter into God’s presence ready to receive profitable instruction: “Draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil” (Eccl. 5:1b).

David’s psalms are deeply concerned with proper worship: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those who are around Him” (Ps. 89:7); “Holiness adorns Your house, O Lord, forever” (Ps. 93:5); “But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; in fear of You will I worship toward Your holy temple” (Ps. 5:7).

In his treatise on A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship, Richard Steel (1628 – 1694) describes 12 causes of distraction in our worship of God. The fourth cause he writes is “lukewarmness.” He says, “He that is intense in anything hath few thoughts to spare. Distractions are but the idlings of the heart . He that runs, looks at nothing but the goal, though he meet passengers, or pass by palaces; he is in earnest, and stops for nothing; it is he that walks at leisure who turns his eye to every trifle, and descants on every object, because he is not in haste. Even so the zealous soul, though he forgets not those things which are behind, yet reaching forth to the things that are before, presseth towards the mark; he hath business in hand which concerns eternity, and he cannot stand to whisper with every passenger, nor trifle with every object….Wherefore the apostle, Rom. xii. 11, directs us to be fervent in spirit while we are serving the Lord; not drowsy, but fervent in spirit, or boiling hot, as the word signifies. The busiest flies will not meddle with the scalding honey; though the sweetness entice them, yet the heat terrifies them. The base flies of thy distractions will not molest thy heart if it keep boiling hot in the service of God.”

As you come before the Lord in public worship, set your affections and your full attention on the person of Jesus Christ, who alone sanctifies our worship. Endeavor to rid yourself of vain and worldly thoughts and distractions. Focus on the Lord and not on the inadequacy of the preacher, or the music, or anything else. Be captivated by the holiness of God. Listen to His instruction and discover the glorious blessings of dwelling in His presence.

Martin Luther said that in this day, men approached God “…as if He were a shoe clerk’s apprentice.” If that was true in Luther’s day, how much more true is it in our own? Let’s remember whose presence we enter as we come to worship. Why not begin each Saturday evening. Pray that God would prepare your heart for worship and keep you from being distracted. When you wake each Sunday morning, read Psalm 95 and pray that God would draw you to Himself. Leave for church on time. Fellowship with others when you arrive, but refrain from worldly talk and earthly chatter. Give yourself zealously to the task set before you. Worship God in all His splendor.

Sprinkle all my past sabbaths with the cleansing blood of Jesus,

and may this day witness deep improvement in me.

Give me in rich abundance

the blessings the Lord’s Day was designed to impart;

May my heart be fast bound against worldly thoughts or cares;

Flood my mind with peace beyond understanding;

may my meditations be sweet,

my acts of worship life, liberty, joy,
my drink the streams that flow from your throne,
my food the precious Word,
my defence the shield of faith,
and may my heart be more knit to Jesus. Amen

Blessings and Peace to You All,
Pastor Mark

Categories: Faith, God, Worship Tags: ,

Evergreen

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

“. . . always give thanks to God the Father for everything . . . “

Ephesians 5:20

Fall is finally here!  The leaves on the trees are turning from muted shades of green to brilliant splashes of orange, yellow and red.  All around us signs of winter are quickly approaching.  The animals are getting their winter coats.  The grass has quit growing quite so fast.  The leaves are falling in abundance off the trees.  Even the squirrels are chasing after acorns and pecans so they might have their pantries full as “Old Man Winter”  slowly casts his shadow over the next few months.

I think fall is one of the most beautiful times of the year.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel from the Springs into the Sangre Mountains.  As we traveled along the winding highway into the mountains, vistas of fall foliage burst into view almost as if a painter had splashed onto the landscape brilliant hues of orange and yellow. 

As I glanced through the bursts of color and falling leaves I became aware of something that seemed to be hidden during the spring and summer months.  Standing proud and tall among a particular group of trees strutting their fall plumage I saw a single stately, yet faithful evergreen.

All the deciduous trees remain dormant and bare during the winter months.  Their foliage changes with the changing seasons, but these pine trees we know as evergreens remain green even during the most severe winter weather. 

These trees are always green despite changes in the weather around them.  They remain green in the scorching summer heat.  They remain green in the blusterous cold of winter.  They remain green all year-long despite freezing temperatures and long dry spells. In the midst of drought, they are green.   The grass withers and the flowers fade, but these trees stand “ever-green.”

This visual picture reminded me that a Christian’s life should also be characterized by an enduring thankfulness that is unaffected by the seasons of change around us.  When the heat of a pressured week or the deadly cold of pain strikes us, we should remain  “ever-green.”  Through seasons of sadness and sorrow or when the dryness of exhaustion confronts us, we should remain “ever-green.”  Even in the midst of the scorching heat of confrontation we should be “ever-green.”

Paul in writing to the Ephesian Church told them to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything.”  We too should remain thankful, regardless of changes occurring around us.

Those trees are rooted in soil that sustains them and holds them firmly in place, so too, should a Christian be rooted and built up in Christ Jesus, strengthened in the faith . . . and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7) – “ever-green.”

Are you a believer in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Then let those evergreens you see in the fall foliage around you today remind you to be thankful for everything no matter what time of life you find yourself in.  Remember that you are God’s “evergreen” in a world full of seasons of change.