Be Merciful to Me, a Sinner (a meditation)

One of my favorite old hymns is Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy. The last verse goes:

Let not conscience make you linger / Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requireth / Is to feel your need of Him

It reminds us of the fact that we have nothing to offer God for our salvation. We are able to come to Jesus and find forgiveness of and freedom from sin only because he has acted and given to us fully by his grace.

Sadly, some people miss this truth and their thoughts go in other directions. One of these is the direction of self-righteousness and another is the direction of a soul crushed under the weight of never being good enough. The self-righteous person believes that he is somehow better than people around him, especially those he deems to be sinners.

Jesus gave an illustration of a Pharisee who fit this self-righteous mold in Luke 18:11-12. There in a prayer, the Pharisee says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

The song above addresses those who crushed under the weight of feeling never good enough. “Fitness” is making oneself ready. If that is what we strive for, then we’ll never reach the goal. Left on our own, such thought indeed crushes.

But in Luke 18, Jesus offered a better way—the way of the person who feels their need of Him. Contrasted with the Pharisee is a tax collector standing far off, eyes to the ground, and beating his hand against his chest. This tax collector called out: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

Jesus said that this was the man who left the temple justified before God.

It is a simplicity of grace, yet one we fight against. Most of us would rather be in some way self-justified, feeling as if our goodness contributed something to our salvation. Yet, it doesn’t. And instead of this being a soul-crushing defeat, this should help us to realize the greatness of grace.

Some of us need to get over ourselves (Jesus talked about that in Luke 18:14). Some of us need to set our eyes more fully on what God has offered through Jesus. Then we will see our need for him. Then we will find true salvation in Jesus alone.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Good Reads 08.24.16 (on: justice, God’s love, and prayer)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On the greatness of God’s love for us: We Have Nothing to Offer the One Who Offers Us Everything by Jared C. Wilson

If you look to Jesus, the bread of life, and ask him to satisfy your hunger, he will not give you a stone. He will give you himself. Let us then stop begging for signs and start beholding Jesus. There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought. It is the cross. And there is a still further sign that you will live in this love forever. It is the empty tomb. (click here to read more)

Why we sometimes have to wait to see justice: Grateful for the Wait by Randy Alcorn

Why doesn’t God simply reward each good and punish each evil as it happens? Because God’s justice is not a vending machine in which a coin of righteousness immediately produces reward or a coin of evil yields swift retribution. Scripture assures us justice is coming. Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and incubates our faith. When reward and punishment are immediate, no faith in God is required or cultivated. (click here to read more)

A series of posts on prayer:

On praying for the best and not just the good: Do You Pray Like a Nonbeliever? by John Piper

How then do they pray? Generally, they do not ask God to do bad things. They ask him to do good things without asking him to do the best thing. They pray as though God were the giver but not the gift. They pray for protection, and shelter, and food, and clothing, and health, and peace, and prosperity, and social justice, and comfort, and happiness. (click here to read more)

On what to pray for: God Doesn’t Need to be Convinced to Give You What You Need by Michael Kelley

We know that through the gospel, we are God’s beloved children. And we know that as a good Father, He does not provide for us reluctantly, but instead delights each day in giving us our daily bread, and doing more than we can even conceive. God does not need convincing. He already knows what we need, and He is going to give us just that. (click here to read more)

On how to pray well: 3 Keys To a Powerful Prayer Life by Tim Challies

The first key is a place of quiet, a place that is free, or as free as possible, from distractions. “With regard to many of us, the first of these, a quiet place, is well within our reach. But there are tens of thousands of our fellow-believers who find it generally impossible to withdraw into the desired seclusion of the secret place. A house-mother in a crowded tenement, an apprentice in city lodgings, a ploughman in his living quarters, a soldier in barracks, a boy living at school, these and many more may not be able always to command quiet and solitude. But, ‘your Father knoweth.’” Of course today we have distractions that may arise from the very devices we use to pray—the iPhone that houses our prayer app, for example—so we need to take special care that we “silence” our devices so they do not distract us. (click here to read more)

 

The Father who gives the best (a meditation)

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” ~Jesus, Luke 11:11-13

The Father-child relationship between God and his people is one of the most wonderful things we find in the Bible. It should cause us to stand in awe that the God who created everything would invite us to be part of his family and remove every barrier that would otherwise prevent us, if only we turn to Jesus, the true Son of God.

In Luke 11, Jesus uses this relationship to help explain to us prayer. Prayer is the primary act in which we talk to God. The Bible says so much about prayer that we know that God intends prayer to be more than a religious duty. Rather, he delights in and wants us to delight in this relationship-growing conversation.

Jesus illustrated prayer with a daily reality of our lives. He pointed at human fathers and said: If you, fallen as you are, can give good things to your children, how much better are the things the perfect Father gives? Yes, there are some bad fathers out there—abusive fathers and absentee fathers. But, for the most part, fathers desire to care for their children and seek to do good for their sons and daughters.

So if your son were to ask for a fish or your daughter for an egg, you would not respond by giving them something that would hurt them instead. This reality teaches us a few things about prayer to the perfect Father:

First, he will only give us what is good for us. James wrote that every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). Paul wrote that God takes the evil things that happen in the world and turns them ultimately for the good of his people (Romans 8:28). Even when we feel the momentary pain of the Father’s discipline, it is for our good.

Second, when we ask for something that is bad, the Father will give us according to what is good. This is more implied than explicit in the text. But what would happen if your son or daughter asked you for a venomous scorpion or poisonous snake? You would say no. Even if they begged and pleaded for it, you would still say no, because you know it would hurt them. This is why God doesn’t always answer our prayers by giving us exactly what we asked for. Sometimes instead of an egg, or fish, or bread, we’re asking for something that will hurt us. Sometimes we even think what we’re asking for will be good for us, but the God who knows all things past and present with perfection knows whether something will work for our good or bad. So, God will tell us no when we need to hear no, and he will tell us wait when we need to hear wait.

Third, the best thing God could give us is himself. The Bible teaches us that God is the greatest good, indeed he is the ultimate definer of what is good. The greatest good, then, and the greatest treasure we could have is God himself. And that is exactly what God offers us. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the three persons of the one God, work together to bring us good. God the Father showed us his love by sending God the Son who willingly died in our place for our sins. God the Son then promised to pour out on his people God the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity working for us and in us, all for his glory. And Jesus said that God will give his Holy Spirit to those who ask. The Bible tells us that when we come to faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells us, changes us, gives us new life and new passions, and leads us to honor God in what we do. All of this, a gift of grace and love from the Father who longs to do good for his children.

So turn to Jesus, go to God often in prayer, and ask him for all the good that he wishes to show us.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.

Good Reads 08.10.16 (on: spiritual dry spells, praying for teachers, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On why we need to know our Bibles better than we know what’s on blogs or in books: Books, Blogs, and the Importance of Knowing My Bible by Mike Leake

So it is very important that I keep this in mind as I read through all of these books and blog posts. I want to follow Jesus and be the best husband and daddy that I can be. But I’m also a bonehead who is being slowly (oh so painfully slow) transformed into the likeness of Jesus. He is my standard. I never can meet that standard. But he has graciously provided for me. He accepts me because He accepts His own perfect work. (click here to read more)

On what to do when you feel spiritually dry: What to do When You Are in a Spiritual Dry Spell by Scott Slayton

Our prayer life suffers the most during dry spells. We feel distant from God, so we don’t pray because we find it discouraging and this only leads to a further sense of alienation from God. When you struggle to pray, try praying through several Psalms to reinvigorate your time in prayer. These words inspired by the Holy Spirit give us a vocabulary for prayer and remind us that other people who know God walk through the same periods of darkness that we do. (click here to read more)

On prayer and school: Pray for Your Child’s Teacher by Shane Pruitt

Teachers literally shape and mold future generations. When people are asked, “Who was the most influential person in your life?” the most common response is a parent and a very close second is a teacher. As your children head back to school, you’re entrusting them to a teacher. These men and women are simply human beings; this means they’ll make mistakes, they value encouragement, they appreciate patience, and they surely need your prayers.

In asking some real-life teachers, “How would you want the parents of your students to pray for you this year?” here is a prayer list of what they shared: (click here to read more)

On being “true to yourself”: The Exhausting Task of Finding Your Best Life Now by Trevin Wax

What should we do? The world says pursue happiness, whatever the cost, by becoming the best version of “you” possible. Look inside for salvation, and then look outside for affirmation.

The problem is, “the curated version of you that lives online also feels hopelessly polished and inaccurate,” Havrilesky writes, “and you feel, somehow, that you alone are the inauthentic one.” Show your true self and you’ll be shamed. Another problem is that this pursuit of happiness—finding yourself and being true to whatever authentic person you decide to be—turns out to be rather exhausting. (click here to read more)

 

Good Reads 08.03.16 (on: beauty, prayer, marriage, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On body image and beauty: Why Did God Make Me Ugly? by David Qaoud

For me, I’ve always found comfort from Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

Who created you, designed you, made you? God. When I wish I wasn’t born with a heart defect, I remember this verse. When I wish I were a little taller or my tendons a little stronger, I remember God was the One who designed me. (click here to read more)

On the responsibility of a husband in his marriage: Marriage Manifesto for Men by Ed Welch

I want nothing that could possibly minimize my responsibilities which are to pray for our marriage, pray for my wife, take spiritual initiatives during our times together, share the important features of my thoughts, and invite her to speak of her pleasures, personal struggles and marital concerns. My responsibility is to love her in an increasingly active and noticeable way, like Jesus Christ loves his bride and in his power. (click here to read more)

On quiet times and silent prayers: Stop Having Quiet Times by David Powlison

You and I can do the same thing. Our relationship with God isn’t meant to become so interiorized that we lose the words of direct speech. Close the door, take a walk, get in the car—and speak up. Of course, in group contexts throughout the Bible and in public gatherings, God’s people naturally pray and sing aloud, just as they hear Scripture aloud. We naturally do the same in corporate worship, when we join in the Lord’s prayer, or in small-group prayer.

The standard practice for both public and private prayer is to speak so as to be heard by the Person you’re addressing. Prayer is verbal because it’s relational. It’s not a psychological experience. It’s not contemplative immersion in an inner silence beyond words. It’s an honest verbal conversation about things that matter, talking with someone you know, need, and love. (click here to read more)

On aging gracefully in the church: Five Things I Pray I Will Not Do as a Senior Adult in the Church by Thom Rainer

I attended a business meeting of a large church some time ago. The total attendance at the meeting represented fewer than five percent of the worship attendance. One of the men who recognized me approached me before the meeting, “We come together at these business meetings to keep the pastor straight,” he told me. In reality, they came together to criticize the pastor and staff. I pray I will not become a perpetual critic. I don’t want to grow old and cranky; I want to grow old and more sanctified. (click here to read more)

Good Reads 07.27.16 (on: work, parenting, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On work: Working Well by Tim Challies

You need to work. You also need to obey the people who are over you in that work. Whenever Paul talks about authority he connects it to the authority of Christ; whenever he talks about obedience he makes it a lesser form of the greater obedience to Christ. He does that here. Employees, you need to obey your manager or your employer in the same way you would obey Christ. These are not two different things. The way you understand the employee/employer relationship flows right out of the way you understand your relationship with Jesus Christ. If you want to obey Christ, you need to obey your boss. In fact, you need to obey your boss in the way you obey Christ. (click here to read more)

On sin and the Christian: Three Things Sin Can’t Do to the Christian by Cody Barnhart

If you are being sanctified by the renewal of your mind, your perfection has already been accomplished. Though you must work out your salvation with fear and trembling, you are no longer at enmity with God. Rejoice in this freedom! Sin cannot overcome us because we’ve been overcome with Christ’s righteous faithfulness. He completed all the work necessary to not just save you, but to keep you. Rest and rejoice in the faithfulness of King Jesus. (click here to read more)

On silence and response: How Would Jesus Respond Online? by Michael Kelley

What about us? We are often far more concerned with responding than knowing. We are much more focused on our next word than the heart that motivated the criticism or accusation. We forget, in a day and time of easy and cheap social interactions and confrontations, that the ones on the other side of the tweet are actually people made in the image of God. If we knew who they were, we might be much slower to speak and quicker to hold our tongues and listen. (click here to read more)

On parenting (this is a fun little post): Honest Parenting Haikus by Barnabas Piper

Parenting is hard
And that’s an understatement
But it is worth it
(click here to read more)

Pray for your country’s leaders (a meditation)

God’s people should make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all people—on behalf of kings, and all who hold high office, so that we may lead a tranquil and peaceful life in all godliness and holiness. ~1 Timothy 2:1-2

It’s Summer of 2016, and here in the United States we find ourselves in the midst of another heated political battle. Some days it seems the country has never been more divided. Some days it seems that individual political parties have never seen so much internal turmoil. But really, historically, there’s nothing new under the sun (Solomon, Ecclesiastes).

Politics have always been heated and the issues complex. Some politicians have fared better than others at navigating the opinions and felt needs of a diverse population base while remaining popular. Opinionated news media and social networking where anyone can say what they want with little thought rarely helps.

As citizens of the United States, we have a great privilege that much of the world has not shared: we can vote for a person based on our convictions, beliefs, and conscious. We might not agree with everything a candidate does, but we do get to cast a vote and we get to do so without feeling threatened by a dictatorial governing force.

And if we are followers of Jesus, as citizens of heaven, we have a greater privilege, in fact a greater duty: to pray for those in charge.

Paul told young Timothy to teach the people in the church to pray in various ways “on behalf of all people.” Since we can’t realistically know the prayer needs of billions of people, there is some obvious generality to this command. We have people who are family, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and classmates who we do know well and we can pray for specifically and regularly.

But how do we pray for “all people”?

One way that Paul went on to specify was to pray for the governing authorities. With our news outlets and social media, it is far easier for us to become skeptical and angry toward those in government than it is to pray for them. Yet, the Bible calls us to be different than what we see on the news or Facebook.

It doesn’t matter if we like a politician or not, it doesn’t matter if we agree with their positions or not, and it doesn’t matter if their last name is Bush, Obama, Clinton, Ryan, or Pelosi. We are to pray.

The reason we pray is for the good of the people of our land. Paul said it was  good thing for us to be able to live “tranquil and peaceful” lives and especially as Christians in our pursuit of “godliness and holiness.” Paul went on to say as well that this is good as we seek the salvation of others, because God desires all people to be saved from the greatest of kings to the humblest of servants (2:3-4).

So, we must pray.

We are to pray for the character of the political leaders. Better to be led by men and women of honesty and integrity than by those who lack. We are to pray for wisdom in leadership. Better to be led by those who are able to discern well the direction of the age and offer real solutions than by those who can’t see what’s likely to come and cause great problems. We are to pray for leaders who listen well. The Bible tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen, so better to be led by those who will take the time to listen to different views and opposing sides, as well as their own constituents, and then work to develop solutions that are best for all.

And, since we as Christians believe that the hope of the gospel and the love of God are for people of all backgrounds, ages, social class, education, etc., we are to pray for the salvation of those in charge. Not that they would use religion merely as a platform to appeal to certain people, but to see true life change. It is better to see another join us in God’s family and better to be led by someone who knows the grace of God and has a genuine love and concern for all people, then someone who caters to just a small group that can benefit him or her.

Let us pray, then, for our president, senators, representatives, governors, and others in government office, in the hope that they will make a greater, more positive impact in our country and world.

This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.