Why are we commanded to praise?

The following is an excerpt from CS Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms.  It is a marvelous reminder of what a heart of praise is, namely not something we can manufacture, but rather something that overflows naturally.  I pray that we would all draw closer to the God is infinitely worthy of praise.

“But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or any- thing—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…. The world rings with praise— lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game….

My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”[1]

[1] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), 94–5.

What is the Gospel?

The more I walk the Christian life the more this question becomes relevant and important.

What is the Gospel?

The gospel is many things.  Most succinctly put Paul says it is “…Christ dying for our sins and being raised again in on the third day…”  (1 Corinthians 15:4) What does that mean to us today in the 21st century?  That is the question.

Yet the gospel goes deeper into us than any can imagine, or can really plumb the depths of in this life.  CJ Mahaney says in his book The Cross Centered Life  that

“we never move beyond the cross, only into a more profound understanding of it”

That certainly is becoming my experience.  How about yours?  Are you growing in affection for Christ and the cross daily?  Is that even possible? I think it is.

Read the biographies of the great saints.  See how they marveled at the Cross, how their joy increased throughout their life.

Indeed, God wants joy for us, unrestricted.

Scripture itself is the breeding ground for this joy and depth.  Jesus’ teachings are incredibly relevant to our lives today.  Our lives and the lives of the patriarchs aren’t as distant as you might think.

In fact, many of them could have been contestants on the Jerry Springer show, seriously just read Genesis. Noah passes out drunk naked in his tent and his son dishonors him (Gen 9:21-29).  Abraham pimps out his wife more than once (Gen 12:10-20 & Gen 20).  Moses was a murderer (Gen 2:11-16), David gets a married woman pregnant, then kills her husband (2 Sam 11). This is serious stuff.

Yet through it all, Old and New Testament up to this very day and beyond, the gospel of grace prevails and is the most shocking thing (in a good way) we can ever experience.

God loves these men, he loves them through a Cross.

Our world is no more messed up than theirs was, and God’s love is just as available.  Do we have ears to hear, do we have eyes to see, is our heart soft enough to receive?

In the coming months I hope to examine more fully the practical out-workings of the gospel in our daily lives.  What does Jesus’ dying on a cross have to do with us today?

The Dentist: A dose of the Gospel

I’m amazed at how quickly we can turn away from things that we love when there is even minor discomfort.  Yesterday I went in to the dentist and had some fillings done, which made my teeth super sensitive.  And because of that, because of the discomfort I was able to give up cold things like soda and ice cream almost immediately.  The negative reinforcement of pain was enough to stop these indulgences.

I marveled at how easy it is to stop, given those circumstances, when perhaps I’ve been trying to stop for years.   We get to see this on a larger scale from those who suffer from diabetes, or have experienced a life threatening event like a heart attack and are told they need to change their lifestyle.  All of a sudden they see what is at stake, they value their life more than cheeseburgers.  And seeing what’s at stake they change.

Why does it take a traumatic event like this to cause us to change?

Because we love comfort, and “we want what we want.”  It is only when our eyes are opened and we see the consequences or our actions that we start to change.  We have a revelation, so to speak.

And to what does this ultimately point?  What is the most shocking and traumatic event in all of history? 

The Cross of Christ

This single event in history that is meant to change our hearts from self-centeredness to other-centeredness.   When we see the consequences of our actions…our sins…nailed a man to a cross, and not just any man, but the best man that ever lived, the most kind, the most honest, the most integritous,  the most noble, the most loving man to ever live, indeed the God-man.  And this is love the bible says (1 John 4:7), shocking love.

It his him for us.

It takes something shocking to rattle us, to wake us up, to get our attention because we are so drawn into ourselves.   It takes something radical to change us.   God knows us all to well.

Teaching & Leading

I am very grateful to having been given the opportunity to lead a bible study and lead a ministry.  Through it I have been learning a ton about how truly self centered I am, and how much I desire the approval of others.  I’m thankful that I am in an uncomfortable situation right now, because I think that means God is growing me.

We’ve just finished our first month of our study through the Fruits of the Spirit and this last week we hit Ecclesiastes 1, as we try to make it through the whole book this year.  I just wanted to share a couple things that I’ve been learning as we study through these truths.

The first is that in Gal 5:22, Paul lists the fruit of the spirit, which we are all probably familiar with, but the interesting thing here is that Paul uses the singular noun Fruit, in the Greek, and then goes on to list 9 different fruits.  I was listening to Tim Keller preach on this text and he makes the point that because of that, we as Christians, are growing in all the fruits at once, not just one or two.  He cites Jonathan Edwards monumental work “Religious Affections” in expounding upon this notion.  Edwards says that a great many of the Fruits can be faked, but one evidence of true Religious Affections, or we could say conversion, is that we are growing in all the areas. 

I think that is a pertinent question for all of us to be asking.  Are we growing in Love?  Peace? Patience?  Joy?…If not, are we viewing Jesus Christ correctly?  Are we seeing his magnifying beauty in light of the ugliness of our sin?  In truth, the root of all the fruits is the Gospel.  The more we gaze and wonder at the glory of the Cross of Christ the more we become like Him.  It is an interesting study given Ecclesiastes chapter 1, which teaches that life itself is meaningless without God.  And so maybe it is not so much the “work” that we are doing, but more so, the work God is doing in us!

Ezekiel Ch. 18

This is a provocative chapter.  Here we see great argument for the responsibility of man.  Ezekiel, and God, is quite clear here about the responsibility of each individual.  Where then does the Cross of Christ come in?  It comes in here.

The New American Commentary says that …”God is righteous yet loving, just yet merciful”.  It is true, as John Piper says, that no sin ever goes unpunished.  And so for every wicked sinner that sins…and punishment must be enacted.  This is what it means to be just.  And God is the just, the purely just.  God must exact penalty for sin, for holy transgression.

And so the principle we see largely in Eze is this one, and it is echoed throughout Proverbs, Psalms and Ecc.  There are consequences for actions.  Now, when one repents and turns to God and forsakes sin, he is righteous, he will be given life.  How is this possible?  By our own power?  By no means, just spend some time in Roman 7.  What was the purpose of the Law?  To show us our sin.  What is the answer to sin…Jesus Christ, dead and raised.

And so a transaction takes place on the Cross of Christ, our sinfulness for his righteousness, and then immediately by the power of His Holy Spirit, whom he has given us, we have the ability, through the Spirit to respond to God in worship…in all of life.  Now we are able to truly repent.

And something else happens.  The consequence for sin remains, ie death on a cross, and also the consequences we will experience.  But the reason for this consequences has utterly changed.  We are no longer being “punished” for our sin, but rather Chastened, or disciplined (Heb 12:8), and this is done in Love…so that the truth of Rom 8:28 rings loud in our souls…yes truly all things are working together for good….for those who love Christ Jesus and are called according to his purposes!

So this chapter should bring immeasurable joy as it magnifies the work of Christ in our life!  We truly are free, from God’s law, and yet we fulfill it out of our new hearts.  And Ezekiel has already taught us about that in Eze 11:9 and will repeat it in Eze 36.  God will give us a new heart and cause us to love him, he will give us desires for him.

Why all the fuss about sin in the first place then?  Why not just make us perfect?  One word…Humility.  So that he who boasts, will boast only in the Lord.

Thoughts on Ezekiel

The more I read these books in the context of what was going on…the more they become alive and relevant.

We see two things in the books of Ezekiel.

1.  God will fulfill his word. Just as everything Ezekiel is talking about happened with the desolation of Jerusalem, so to everything written in the Book of Revelation will come to past.  The question is do we believe it.

We get this great picture in Ezekiel and Jeremiah of the impending judgment, and the doubters and false prophets who said it will never come.  We will have peace, they said.  NO!  Destruction came then, and Judgment will come in the future. Who are our “false prophets” today?   Who says that God will not judge, that God is not angry at sin?

2.  Jesus Christ paid the price for us.  God says in Ezek 16:63, that he will make atonement and earlier says he will establish a new covenant.  This will be done through Jesus Christ.  Even in those days the people can repent and trust in their God, that he will make atonement for sins.  Jesus Christ would pay the ultimate price, the desolation of Jerusalem would have it’s full effect on the Cross of Christ!

Trustworthy Sayings…

I love this…I came across these this morning while reading the word…good stuff to commit to memory!  Thanks Paul.

This saying is trustworthy:

1 Tim 1:15

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

1 Tim 3:1

“If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

1 Tim 4:10

“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

2 Tim 2:11-13

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

If we endure, we will also reign with him;

If we deny him, he also will deny us;

If we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.”

Titus 3:4-7

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

(Th) Jesus, our Strength (Mark 6:30-44)

Do you ever have one of those weeks or months where you just feel like you are going to lose it?  You are completely at the end of your rope.  April was such a month for me.  Full weekends every week, friends visiting, work, study, applications…  We all tend to find ourselves in these seasons.   But as in all things…Jesus is the answer.

Last Monday I was really struggling and crying out to God for some help.  I was just feeling exhausted, not wanting to do anything anymore.  As it happened, I was in Mark 6:30 that morning following along in my yearly reading plan, and God hit me with the truth.

Now, I’ve read the account of Jesus feeding five thousand many times, and it never hit me as so practical as it did that morning.  You see, Jesus is using this to teach his disciples a lesson – an important lesson we can take into our daily lives and struggles.

The disciples had just returned from being sent out by Jesus earlier in the chapter.  They come back and are fired up, reporting to Jesus all that they had done.  And even then, there were so many people coming and so much to do that v31 says they didn’t even have time to eat.  I know most of us have been there at some point.

So Jesus says, in effect, “All right, guys, let’s get away and get some rest.”  So they get in a boat to head out to a solitary place (v6:32).  Except when they reach land they are met with five thousand people in need of shepherding (v34).  Now imagine being a disciple with Jesus on the boat.  You have just gotten back from a business trip, you’re feeling good about the work you have been doing, but you’re feeling a little drained, a little grouchy and irritable at this point.   You just need a day off.

So they get in this boat thinking, “Finally, some rest.  This is just what I need”  only to arrive on the other side with even more work to do there than where they just left.  This obviously was the breaking point for them.  Jesus gets out and starts ministering to the crowd.  I just imagine the disciples sitting back and going, “This is ridiculous.  We were supposed to get some rest.  This ain’t right, we were promised some time off!”  And then Jesus turns to them – and it’s late by this point – and tells them to feed these people.  And they are thinking, you have got to be joking.  I didn’t sign on for this.  This is too much.  They bark back “That would take eight months of a man’s wages…”  Clearly annoyed by this point.

And then Jesus teaches us this very important lesson.  He feeds everyone.

We learn in John 6 the meaning of this miracle.  In John 6, he explains that he is the bread of life; that we are to feed on his “flesh”.  Now, this sounds grotesque until we connect it with John 1:14 “The Word became flesh.”

Jesus is teaching us to feed on Him.  There is a spiritual truth here being revealed.  We see in Col 2:17, Heb 8:5, 10:1, that the physical truths are but a shadow of the heavenly truth, which is the substance.  In other words, Jesus is teaching us that no matter how busy we are, it is Christ that sustains us.  He feeds us spiritual food, which is himself.  He is our strength, he is our substance.  The truth is that no matter how exhausted we feel, no matter how much we need a sabbath and rest, what we need more than anything is Christ himself.

This is a great truth to learn, and I’m sure someday, re-learn.  But that morning it uplifted my spirit and I was again sustained.  Isa 50:4 captures it nicely:

“The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.”


On the Crucifixion

Matt 27:44

“In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

Can you imagine;  betrayal, beatings, false accusations, mocking, flogging, crucifying and insulting.

There was no rest for him.  He had endured 12 hours of the most grotesque and unmerciful treatment as anyone, ever in the history of the world.  And as he lay there, taking insult after insult, blow after blow, all the while he remained silent. Imagine him nailed to that cross just being pelted with insults and mocking even by the two men who were being crucified with him.  He endured until he finally had nothing left and broke and called out to God.

Why has God forsaken him?

He did it for me.   He did it for you.