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Now therefore…

Yesterday I preached from 1 John 3:1-3 on adoption. If you haven’t listened to the sermon you can find it here:

At the close of the sermon I shared this official document which is read aloud when a child is adopted in the state of North Carolina. I wanted you to see it in print today. Take time to read it and find in it a picture of your own adoption by your Father in heaven. (parentheses in the document are mine)

NOW THEREFORE, it is hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed by the Court:

  1. That from the date of the entry of this Decree herein, the said minor (your name here) is declared adopted for life by the petitioners and that said child (your name here) shall henceforth be known by the name of: __________________________________________________________ (your name here…insert Christian) and the State Registrar of Vital Records shall make a new birth certificate for said child (your name here) in accordance with the provisions of Section 48-9-107 of the General Statutes;
  2. That the Decree of Adoption effects a complete substitution of families for all legal purposes and establishes the relationship of parent and child, (God the Father and your name) together with all the rights, responsibilities, and duties, between each petitioner and the individual being adopted (your name here);
  3. That from the date of this Decree of Adoption, the adoptee (your name here) is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the adoptive parents (God the Father) in accordance with the statutes on intestate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a child born the legitimate child of the adoptive parents.

Let your mind soak up these phrases: adopted for life. Substitution of families. Parent and child. Rights. Responsibilities (of both parent and child). Inherit. Real. Personal. Child. Legitimate.

You are becoming who you already are.

Make Me Know

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We don’t like admitting that we’re ignorant. The word ignorant, while laced with negative connotations simply means without knowledge. We know much less than we think we do. Google has deceived us. Siri has led us astray. Alexa has convinced us that all knowledge can be found with a simple command.

Job (13:23) in the midst of his own woes and bad advice from would-be friends prayed a legitimate prayer to God: Make me know my transgression and my sin. We are easily self-deceived, easily deluded into thinking that what we are doing is ok. We trick ourselves into thinking that “prayer requests” aren’t really gossip and that the “second look” really isn’t lust.

Unless God reveals the gravity of our sin, we will not know the weight of the cross on Jesus’ back.

In Psalm 25:4 David prays, “Make me to know your ways O Lord; teach me your paths.” God told Isaiah, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, ESV) If we, without realizing it, have reduced God to a Google search or an Alexa command, we have diminished his omniscience (his knowledge of all) and we lean on our own understanding without even realizing it.

You will never know your way if you do not know God’s ways.

In Psalm 34, we hear David pray again: “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” (vs. 8, ESV) The way you should go will never be outside the boundaries of God’s ways. If you want to know your way you must know His ways first. God is concerned with the details of your life. His mind can comprehend billions of people going down trillions of roads. If he feeds the birds, then whatever you’re facing today is of unspeakable importance to him.

Your way matters to God more than you will ever know.

In Psalm 39 David prays a most unusual prayer: “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! (vs. 4, ESV) The full psalm reveals that David has sinned and God has disciplined him. We aren’t privy to what the sin is–we only know that David is suffering long and hard for it. It appears that God has “cut him down to size.” David realizes he will not live forever, that he has a limited time and space on the earth.

You can no more measure your days than a yardstick can measure the Atlantic Ocean.

Whatever you are facing today, an uncertain diagnosis, unconfessed sin, the unknown of your job situation–pray this prayer: make me to know. If you doubt God’s desire to reveal Himself, consider that He sent his one and only Son, wrapped in human flesh, exposed so you would be covered, ruined so you would be restored, rejected so you would be accepted. Jesus was naked so you would be clothed, hungry so you would be fed, homeless so you would have shelter.

Lord, make me know.

 

Surely Goodness and Mercy

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Psalm 23 is the most oft-quoted Psalm. Charles Spurgeon said, “I have all things and abound; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because the Lord is my shepherd.”

Alexander McClaren added:

No wise, forward look can ignore the possibility of many sorrows and the certainty of some. Hope has ever something of dread in her eyes. The road will not be always bright and smooth, but will sometimes plunge down into grim cations, where no sunbeams reach. But even that anticipation may be calm. “Thou art with me” is enough. He who guides into the gorge will guide through it. It is not a cul de sac, shut in with precipices, at the far end; but it opens out on shining tablelands, where there is greener pasture.”

He who guides into the gorge will guide through it.

You may be in the gorge, but the Lord promises His presence. He will not abandon you. He never forsakes His own. Scripture is replete with those promises. Here are two:

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV)

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest adds:

We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing— that He is preparing and equipping us for some extraordinary work in the future. But as we grow in His grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, at this very moment. If we have God’s assurance behind us, the most amazing strength becomes ours, and we learn to sing, glorifying Him even in the ordinary days and ways of life.

So take a few minutes and join Shane and Shane and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and sing through the storm:

Dare Pray This Prayer

 

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This prayer is taken from The Valley of Vision, a compilation of Puritan prayers:

My God,
I bless you that you have given me the eye of faith,
to see you as father,
to know you as covenant God,
to experience your love planted in me;

For faith is the grace of union
by which I spell out my entitlement to you:
Faith casts my anchor upward
where I trust in you
and engage you to be my Lord.

Be pleased to live and move within me,
breathing in my prayers,
inhabiting my praises,
speaking in my words,
moving in my actions
living in my life,
causing me to grow in grace.

Your bounteous goodness has helped me believe,
But my faith is weak and wavering,
its light dim,
its steps tottering,
its increase slow,
its backslidings frequent;
It should scale the heavens, but lies groveling in the dust.

Lord, fan this divine spark into glowing flame
When faith sleeps, my heart becomes
an unclean thing
the fount of every loathsome desire,
the cage of unclean lusts
all fluttering to escape,
the noxious tree of deadly fruit
the open wayside of earthly tares.

Lord, awake faith to put forth its strength
until all heaven fills my soul
and all impurity is cast out.

Amen.

What You Crave Will Enslave

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33, ESV)

In yesterday’s sermon I talked about three reasons (arguments) we should not worry: theological, logical and philosophical. There is never enough time to finish a sermon, to cover every point. God’s word is like a rich, multi-layered dessert–full of flavor and nuances that cannot be described in a thirty-minute reflection or proclamation. The point of this blog post is to zero-in on a word that appears twice in English translations as almost the same word–one can easily miss the nuanced way Jesus uses this word.

Seek.

Jesus says the Gentiles (unbelievers) seek after basic things like food, drink and clothes. He also instructs us to seek first. The root word seek is defined as an unceasing quest. We are to engage in an unceasing quest for God and the things of God.

We are to never seek after even the basic necessities of life. To seek after is a combination of the root word seek and the prefix epi–meaning over and above. To seek after is to have an inordinate desire for. When you seek after food you become a glutton. When you seek after clothes, you become a shopaholic.

In Jesus’ brilliant sermon, he draws a fine line between seeking and seeking after.

Whatever we seek after will seek after us.

Whatever consumes our thinking will consume our lives. Jesus places a clear priority on seeking (an unceasing quest) first God and his kingdom. Because he says seek first, clearly we are to then seek food, water and clothes. Eat well. Drink plenty of water. Wear warm clothes. When we seek first God and his kingdom, we will not seek after (obsess over) other things.

Perhaps this pandemic has revealed obsessions that consume you, addictions that control you, desires that drive you. Confess this to God. Seek Him first. Then he will add whatever you need.

 

Matthew 6:25-34 Sermon Notes

Introduction

I realize that, in preaching a sermon on worry, different people will hear it differently. DA Carson, in his commentary on Matthew spoke to this. (read pages 88-89 of Carson) Here, Jesus gives 3 arguments against worry. They all matter. Since worry is a cerebral process, his arguments require you to think. My goal is that you will see God in a new light this morning, and that upon seeing God for who He is, you will see worry for what it is.

“There is a sense in which worry is not only good, but its absence is, biblically speaking, irresponsible. There is a sense in which worry is not only evil, but its presence signifies unbelief and disobedience.” DA Carson

Don’t worry: a theological argument.

Therefore—why is the therefore there? Jesus has just made the statement, “You can’t serve God and wealth.” He’s calling the people to a decision between the two. And in his crowd are poor, day laborers. It would be easy for them, at this point, to look around and see the wealthy people, nod in agreement and feel pretty good about themselves.

However, Jesus goes from excess to necessities. He addresses the rich and the poor alike in these statements.

He tells them not to be anxious about food, water and clothes! These are the basic needs of life. No one is excluded from Jesus’ sermon on worry.

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26, ESV)

I’m afraid we read this and immediately focus on our value. However, we cannot understand our value without understanding Jesus’ statement about the Father. He feeds birds.

From D.A. Carson:

Open Universe

  • Gs represent gods; the bottom of the diagram is the physical universe
  • The arrows coming down represent gods working, but the arrows going up represent people trying to win the favor of the gods

Closed Universe

  • Everything is in the circle and everything that can be explained is already in the circle.
  • Atheistic scientists make this argument
  • There is nothing more than matter, energy and space

Alteration to Closed Universe

  • At first seems an improvement. God is the center of things. But it isn’t very different because God is merely part of the mechanism.
  • Deism: people believe there is a God but he isn’t personal, involved
  • Refer to God as “being” or “higher power”

Controlled Universe

  • Everything is found within the circle, along with every other created thing or being
  • There are scientific laws to be discovered and a patterned order which supports cause and effect
  • The omnipresent God stands both above this universe and in it.
  • In this universe God feeds the birds.

Why go into all this? Because I’m afraid our worry is founded in our misunderstanding of who God is. Where do you find yourself? Trying to win his favor? Thinking he’s disinterested? Or maybe you’re a spiritual person and you know He’s involved, but not personally. Any of those positions will lead you to worry.

This is how Christians function as practical atheists or deists without even realizing it.

Don’t worry: God feeds the birds.

Don’t worry: a logical argument.

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:27, ESV)

Logically, worry cannot accomplish the energy spent on it. You cannot extend your life by worrying. As a matter of fact, the opposite may be true.

An article published by Harvard Health in June of 2017  suggested a connection between anxiety and intestinal, heart and respiratory disease.

Most of Jesus’ audience would have been what historians call the ah-maretz—common people. They’re day laborers who show up in the morning seeking work and get paid at the end of the day. They live day to day. If anyone had reason to worry it would be them. Even in their day-to-day situation, Jesus tells them not to worry.

Why? Worry won’t get them a job tomorrow. Worry won’t put food on their table. Worry can’t add a single hour to their life! If you consider the average lifespan of around 70 years (which was the lifespan in Jesus’ day), then that is 613,200 hours of life. Jesus says you can’t add a single hour to that! That is .00000163 percent.  You cannot add that much percentage to your life by worry.

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”–Charles Spurgeon

Don’t worry: it doesn’t work.

Don’t worry: a philosophical argument

Exp.   And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  (Matthew 6:28-30, ESV)

What Jesus employs here was a common philosophical argument in his day: a lesser to greater argument. If God so clothes the grass…will he not much more clothe you.

Jesus has used it already in the argument about the birds: are you not of more value than they?

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, ESV)

This is why all worry should ultimately lead to the cross. On the cross, Jesus met our greatest need. He who did not spare his own Son. This one sentence tells us that God gave his…

  • Best—his Son
  • Only—he had no other Son

If God will give his best and his only, then he will give us ALL things. So how do you respond?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat? Or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31-32, ESV)

Seek after—crave.  Epi—over and above seeking

Pagans crave food, drink and clothes. The average American household spends $3,008 a year eating out.

The average American family spends $1700 on clothes annually.

Don’t worry: it doesn’t make sense.

Conclusion

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)

Seek—It is a present command, meaning an unceasing quest. Notice he doesn’t say, “seek only.” You will, by necessity, seek work, seek to save money, seek to put food on your table, seek to plan—just not first.

The antidote to worry is to seek God first. I know that sounds simple.

Pray first. Respond second.

Rest

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Eliza Edmunds Hewitt was born in Philadelphia 28 June 1851. She was educated in the public schools and after graduation from high school became a teacher. However, she developed a spinal malady which cut short her career and made her a shut-in for many years. During her convalescence, she studied English literature. She felt a need to be useful to her church and began writing poems for the primary department. she went on to teach Sunday school, take an active part in the Philadelphia Elementary Union and become Superintendent of the primary department of Calvin Presbyterian Church. (https://hymnary.org/text/my_faith_has_found_a_resting_place)
Out of her suffering she penned the words of this hymn.

My faith has found a resting place,
from guilt my soul is freed;
I trust the ever-living One,
his wounds for me shall plead.

Refrain:
I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
it is enough that Jesus died,
and that he died for me.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
this ends my fear and doubt;
a sinful soul, I come to him,
he’ll never cast me out. [Refrain]

My heart is leaning on the Word,
the written Word of God,
salvation by my Savior’s name,
salvation thro’ his blood. [Refrain]

My great Physician heals the sick,
the lost he came to save;
for me his precious blood he shed,
for me his life he gave. [Refrain]

Where is your faith? So many things have failed us recently. God never has. He never will.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, ESV)

If God would give us Jesus, he will give us everything we need to get home safely and with joy in the journey.

Rest in him. (And I need to practice what I preach)

Waiting is Normal

umit-bulut-qbTC7ZwJB64-unsplashI don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but waiting is normal. Whoever said the best things come to those who wait was right. They do. Walk with me through the hallowed halls of great people in God’s Story, the Bible. These were real people who lived real lives. You must not forget that as you hear their stories.

God told Noah to build an ark when it had never rained. Depending on which Bible scholar you talk to, it took either 100 or 120 years to build.

God called Abraham to leave the comforts of home in Mesopotamia and move to the uncharted territory of Palestine. When he was 70, God promised him he would have a son. Isaac was born 30 years later.

As a teenager Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers and then sold into slavery in Potiphar’s house. When he wouldn’t give in to Potiphar’s wife’s advances, he was unjustly imprisoned. Around the age of 30, after 13 years of being a slave and prisoner, Joseph became the Prime Minister of Egypt.

God saved baby Moses out of the Red Sea, put him in Pharaoh’s house, and at the age of 80–after Moses had lived as a fugitive for 40 years for murdering an Egyptian who was abusing a fellow Israelite–God called him to go to Egypt and lead his people out.

The prophet Samuel anointed David, a young lad (10-13 years old) king of Israel. David immediately returned to the life of a shepherd. Five years later David travels to the battlefield to take his brothers food, encounters Goliath and slays him. Five years after that, David becomes the armor bearer to King Saul. Then Saul becomes angry, banishes David from his presence and begins to pursue him. David ran from Saul until he was 30 years old. Anointed king as a ten-year old–reigns 20 years later.

There are more accounts, more doors we could walk through in this hallowed hall of the people God used in Scripture. But there is one last door we must open, one last person we must meet.

He was born to a virgin named Mary with a surrogate father named Joseph. His name was Jesus, he was God in human flesh. The only insight we have into his young life is provided by Luke, who records him at the temple two times: when he was 8 days old and when he was 10 years old. Then…

Silence. Not a word. God in human flesh, walking around on planet earth. Silence. Waiting.

For what. A public ministry that is memorialized even today. Walking on water. Giving sight to the blind. Raising the lame. Preaching remarkable sermons. Ninety percent of Jesus’ life was lived in obscurity, ten percent in plain view.

But it was six hours one Friday that made all the difference.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV)

All of creation waited for this one moment, all of future creation looks back on this moment. When the fullness of time had come. Then three days. Three long days where Mary and Mary Magdalene thought all hope was lost.

Mary’s son and Mary Magdalene’s Savior lay dead.

Peter gave up. The disciples returned to their homes…defeated and deflated. Three days. Three long, harrowing days. You know the rest of the story. Up from the grave he arose!

I cannot pretend to know all that God is teaching us through all of this. However I do know this: waiting is more normal than not.

 

Waiting

jeshoots-com-mSESwdMZr-A-unsplashTypically this blog goes out promptly at 8:30. Not this morning. My computer wouldn’t work. I had to restart it just to be able to get on the site and write. Earlier when I was praying, I returned to a practice I began about a year ago. It is a four-part prayer of intentions that Doug Haag shared with me. This morning I didn’t make it past the first part of the prayer:

  1. Prayer of Presenting Oneself as a Sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2): the spiritual discipline of presenting oneself to God as a living sacrifice, open to Him and His will in all things.

Prayer of Intention: “Lord, I am here, I present myself to you. Here I am.” This protects the will from becoming asleep to the will and Person of God.

As I began to pray I wrote these words:tZS+boPLRGi7AsfedSBUNA

The last question you see in my journal was the one that caught my attention: What is the one way you (God) can use me today in each of the above roles? I began to pray through each role.

As your pastor, I sensed God saying to me that tonight, at our midweek online service, I should talk about waiting. I’m blown away that waiting is more the norm in Scripture (and in life) than getting things quickly. And I am afraid that Google, Amazon, and McDonalds have not served us well. By nature we are impatient. Now, more than ever, we have been enculturated to be impatient.

So you will have to wait for the rest of this message…tonight. I know I’m messing with you…kinda on purpose. Tune in to Facebook at 7 tonight for some great, low-key music and a few words on the normalcy of waiting.

I really do think it will be worth your wait.