Buckets that leak

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My bucket leaks. My bucket forgets. My bucket even quarrels and questions: “God, why don’t you make life easier? Why don’t you arrange my circumstances so that I don’t lose heart? Why can’t I just grow more like you without all the trials?” My hope fades so easily. I lose heart so quickly. Oh Father, I need help:

“…we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

“Notice the implications of this word renewed. We are being “renewed” every day. If you are being renewed every day, what does that imply? It implies: hope fades, encouragement wanes, your bucket leaks. I find it unbelievably encouraging that the apostle Paul says, “I’ve got a secret, and it isn’t a secret of how never to need renewal. You can have an experience, and you don’t need renewal anymore.” That’s not the message. In fact, the message is unbelievably realistic.

Day by day, renewed, which means every day you leak, every day you fade, every day you get depleted. That’s what it says. You wouldn’t need to be renewed day by day, if you could run your car on yesterday’s gas, if your metabolism could function on yesterday’s meal, or if the pain in your head can be relieved on yesterday’s dosage. You can’t run today’s life on yesterday’s newness…you have to find ways to put the air under your wings every day.

And Paul says, “I know how to do that.” That’s the secret I’m after here. I don’t want to lose heart — not a day. I want the secret of being renewed every day — not a week, not a month. Every day I want to figure this out so that I can walk like this. I know life is going to be a battle. That’s the application of “renewed.” So Paul, I really, really want what you say you have. And you say it takes renewing.

This is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 6:34 that each day has enough trouble of its own. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Have you ever thought about that phrase, “its own trouble”? Like, what is today? Friday. Okay, there’s Friday trouble. Guess what? There’s Saturday trouble…

But you know what else? Lamentations 3:22–23 says the mercies of the Lord “are new every morning.” I don’t know how many years I’ve been using these texts for my soul. On the one hand, every day has its own trouble. But on the other, every day has its own mercies. This is Lamentations 3:22–23, and this is Matthew 6:34. God has matched them. That’s part of the secret. Tomorrow will have its Saturday troubles, and tomorrow will have its Saturday mercies. And those Saturday mercies must be tapped into by the secret here of renewing because I had some mercies this morning, and they’re not designed for tomorrow. They were designed for today, and I’m feeling them right now.

Tomorrow there are going to be new mercies, and the secret that Paul’s got here is: How do you get under those? How do you get in those? How do you experience those?…

I asked God, “Is there something in this text that would just give me a clue for why you set it up this way: that I have to be renewed every day? I mean, you could have just bumped me up to maximum sanctification and kept me there.” You know how I know he could? Because he’s going to do it when Jesus comes back. I’ll never sin again after Jesus comes back. So why am I sinning now? “I mean, Lord, just do that. You’re going to do it then; just do it now.” And he says, “Not the plan.”

“We have this treasure in jars of clay” for a reason — clay that needs to be renewed every day, clay that can’t stand on its own longer than 24 hours or on yesterday’s grace for 24 hours — all so that the surpassing power will belong to God (2 Corinthians 4:7). You can get in God’s face about this and say, “I don’t like the plan. I don’t like the plan that you leave me unsanctified and battling every day with depletion, having to be renewed on grace every day. I don’t like the plan. I’d just like to be done with the battle.”

And God would say, ‘Well, that’s the plan. And the reason it’s the plan is I’m going to get some glory in your life. If I didn’t do it this way, you’d get uppity about it. You’d think you had it made. You’d think your strength was coming from you. The fact that you’ve run out of gas every day puts you in the station — and the station is me.’

So God has his reasons for why he saves us in stages, sanctifies us slowly, and makes us fill up every day at his pump, lest we forget where the gas comes from.”

Lest we forget Him.

(From John Piper – you can read more here.)

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Who is the Holy Spirit?

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“…I think the fundamental reason [people don’t take the Holy Spirit seriously] is that they don’t think of him as a person…But the Bible is very clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the three persons who live in the unity of the Trinity. And each is as truly personal as the other two…the Holy Spirit is sent by the Lord Jesus to carry on his work of making disciples.

How does the Spirit do that? By helping people understand the teaching of Jesus, making them aware of the reality of Jesus, and actually confronting them and inviting them to himself.

Then the Holy Spirit allures them…to Jesus. The Spirit makes them realize Jesus is wonderfully loving, wonderfully upright, and glorious as a model of human life. The Lord Jesus shows us what life ought to be, and he offers himself to us all as a Savior who will transform us into his own image. How will that happen? Through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Now, once the Holy Spirit has established the link between us and Christ, he keeps out of sight. (I sometimes say that the Holy Spirit is shy.) He is fulfilling his ministry, but his ministry is to point us to Christ the whole time. And you are enjoying the ministry of the Holy Spirit when you are enjoying Christ the whole time.

I hope the Holy Spirit will lead you into that life where you are close to Christ the whole time — that will bring joy to the heart of the Holy Spirit, who has made it happen; just as it will bring joy to the heart of Christ himself, who will embrace you in his love.

So, do take the Holy Spirit seriously, and open yourself to having him point you to the Lord Jesus to be your Savior, your Master, and your Friend.”

(J.I. Packer, aged 91, explaining who the Holy Spirit is. Watch the complete video at https://www.crossway.org/jipacker/)

Related: The hidden floodlight ministry. _________________________________

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Are you walking at a distance from God?

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“In the military, nobody doubts what’s meant when the order is given, ‘Halt! About turn! Quick march!’ It means the soldiers are being told to turn their backs on the direction in which they are going and to start marching in the opposite direction from the way they were going before.

You see, that’s what repentance is.

But human beings, by instinct — and this is our fallenness finding expression — by instinct, we walk at a distance from God. And God says, ‘Turn around. Face me, and walk towards me.’ The basic problem with our fallen human nature is that we all want to be independent of God. And God says, ‘Stop it!’

And the reason why the theme of repentance is neglected, not only in modern, secular society, but in the church, is because it’s a costly thing to repent. It does mean reshaping your life in quite a radical way. And people, just because they find it too costly as a prospect, try to devise a way of being Christian without anything as radical as, ‘About turn! Quick march!’ …

The end, of course, of walking God-ward, is that fellowship with God becomes a real and rich reality, more and more, as one lives the life of repentance. And those of us, who by God’s grace, have begun to learn to do it, testify, if asked, to the joy of the new life of being closer and closer to the Father and his son Jesus Christ.

Until one begins to take repentance seriously, this is going to be a closed book to you. So, I beg you, start taking repentance seriously. Will you do that?” (From J.I. Packer, at age 91. This transcription is taken from “What is repentance?” at the website J. I. Packer: In His Own Words. Other wonderfully wise video explanations, in his own words, can be found here.)

“…produce fruit that is consistent with repentance [demonstrating new behavior that proves a change of heart, and a conscious decision to turn away from sin]” (Matthew 3:8 AMP)

“The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God!” (Rev. 3:19 MSG)

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no matter when or where you’ve lived

7E566B77-C3E2-4715-9620-5C5A51E151C1“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, forIn him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

EC80F37A-B4DE-4340-9F92-C3C231AA6FA1…now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.” (Acts 17)

No matter where you live: in an ancient city, or a log cabin, or a modern metropolis. And no matter when you’ve lived: in ancient times, or in the 21st century. No matter where, and no matter when, he determined the place and the time, and he did this for his grand and sovereign purpose: that you would seek him. That you, you, would seek and find him. This day, no matter where you are, seek him!

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Why do we respond to beauty like we do?

When we see beauty of all sorts:

F5003B10-AC04-4197-985B-67EE0039CCA5autumn leaves,

B73DABA8-898E-4C79-A62B-DACEDF8D2423spring flowers,

5B868CEE-7A3C-4C02-BA5B-A5AE6626C5DCsummer fruit,

we yearn for something which can hardly be put into words. We record beauty —  in our minds or through paintings or by photographs — because beauty speaks, with significance, to our soul and spirit:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” (C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory)

We’re yearning for — in that moment when our hearts and eyes are caught by the sight of beauty — a place we’ve not yet been, a love we’ve not fully known, the radiating beauty we’ve not yet been able to gaze upon:

“God made the heavens—royal splendor radiates from him, a powerful beauty sets him apart.”

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”

(Psalm 96:6 & 27:4)

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self-hate, or what God says about you

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“…Relationships are our life context. People are our environment. We live before the eyes of others, and they live before ours. We take our cues from them, and they from us. We evaluate, and we are evaluated. We size up, and are sized up. We compare, and we are compared. Within our desperate striving to be “ok,” “acceptable,” “adequate,” “legitimate,” “worthwhile,” and “satisfactory,” self-hate spins a seductive lie—our thoughts about others and their thoughts about us are the ones that really count. We are tempted to believe this and live out of it. Thankfully, this is not the true arrangement of things.

We do not live in a world where our evaluation of ourselves and others is ultimate…God, too, is our environment and we also live before his eyes. We live before the maker and sustainer of all things…

Liberation from the clutches of self-hate and the endless striving to be “ok” is available only in our relationship to God through Christ. Liberation begins by giving ear to what the loving voice of God says about us. We don’t have to guess how he thinks or feels. In the Scriptures, he tells us clearly…Whereas the voice of self-hate proclaims “I am a piece of garbage,” or disgusting and unwanted, the voice of God announces,

I want you, you belong to me. (Psalm 18:19)
I love you and my love does not have strings attached. (Deut. 7)
I cherish you. (Psalm 8)
I will do what is needed to save you. (John 3:16)
I have given you a true and lasting name. (1 John 3:1; Isa 43:1)

…This does not mean our failures and sins and limitations and struggles are not real or insignificant, but rather, despite the presence of all of these things in our lives, our “ok-ness” does not change. Our spiritual status is not up for debate. It is permanently established through Christ.

The voice of God proclaims an alternative to the identity that self-hate argues for. Because you cling to Christ, you can repeat what God the Father says about you. Because you cling to Christ, you can own what God the Father thinks about you: “I am ok.”

Excerpt from “I am not ok” at CCEF, by Todd Stryd. Read the full piece here. Painting: The Mirror by William Orpen, 1900.

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if you haven’t read it…

4FCB20FA-C7BF-4A05-85A7-2B613DCFCD1AOur children were 6, 5 and 3 the first time I read Don’t Waste Your Life. I’d gone along on a work trip with my husband, and for the first time in years, with our children at their aunt’s house and my husband at his all-day conference, I sat and read and read. I can still remember the exact location and the sounds and the smells around me as, hour after hour, I devoured John Piper’s words. I was gripped by his writing, and his words reignited a yearning in my heart. That day was 15 years ago. That original copy has since disappeared from my shelf. So today I ordered a new one. I need to re-read a book so full of challenging truth — truth I easily forget, and many in my affluent culture avoid.

I need God to convict me of irrelevance chosen. I need Him to pierce through the fog of life-numbing distractions I’m daily tempted to choose. If the Lord allows me more decades in this life, one thing is as true for me as it was 15 years ago:

I don’t want to waste my life.

I’ll bet you don’t either. So, we need piercing words. Words written to shake us awake, written to help drag us from a slow descent into wasted living.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set…Desire that your life count for something great! Long for your life to have eternal significance. Want this! Don’t coast through life without a passion…whatever you do, find the God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated passion of your life, and find your way to say it and live for it and die for it. And you will make a difference that lasts. You will not waste your life.” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life)

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An embarrassment to be hidden, or a door for grace to enter through?

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Depression, or inability, or any sort of lack are not embarrassments to be hidden, but are means of grace and teaching, doors to a deeper faith, doors through which grace enters.

“…the experiences of anxiety and depression make a lot of sense in a fallen world. In one way, you could say the miracle is that everyone is not in a continual panic attack and completely in despair, because when you’re without God and without hope you ought to be anxious and you ought to be despairing. And I think as Christian people we’re not immune to any of the pain and the loss and the heartache.

… there’s a way where anxiety and depression are very human experiences, and that’s very freeing … In humility, you’re a human being, I’m a human being. We both struggle…

I’m not saying it’s a desired thing to be depressed or to be anxious, but that you go through it and you find grace, and it’s a door to a deeper faith … [When we’re depressed or anxious], we want the quick fix…but God is patient: deep problems don’t have quick solutions…

One of my favorite Psalms is 25, and it starts out with David upset about what is happening to him. Then it has a pause and he realizes, “Well, I’ve got a problem, because I’m a sinner, too, and I can’t only pray for deliverance from all these things that upset me and discourage me and make me anxious and distressed.” Then he remembers God’s mercy for himself, and he’s able to candidly bring to God his struggles, the things that make him anxious. He uses words like distress and anguish and trouble…

[And] we never get out of situations where we face things that distress us. The last enemy is yet to come. It’s no accident that Pilgrims Progress ends with the last enemy [death], and the crossing of that final river, and this provokes one last crisis of anxiety in Christians’s life…

This is a human dilemma. We’re in this together. So let’s start by naming what troubles us, and then let’s think through what is true about God. He is near. I can talk to Him. We aren’t alone. Anxiety and depression are very lonely experiences. [But] if we aren’t alone, that changes the experience…

God didn’t make us stones: So when distressing things happen to us, we feel distress. When frightening things happen, we feel fearful; when things are out of our control, we feel anxious; when things seem hopeless, we’re going to struggle.

But, there’s a God who wants to, and can, meet me exactly at that place of struggle.”

So, when I am depressed, or acutely aware of my inabilities; when I am frightened, or anxious, or hope-less; I don’t have to feel embarrassed. I don’t have to hide. I can, instead, be comforted and find hope, because my current experience will be a door through which grace — God’s never-ending, intentional, for-me grace — enters.

(Quotes from David Powlison in How to Care for Someone Battling Anxiety and Depression, an interview with Paul David Tripp. You can listen to the whole podcast here.)

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when I need an attitude check

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“If you mourn the fallenness of your world rather than curse its difficulties, you know that grace has visited you.”

(Paul Tripp)

Has a phrase ever helped you in an opposite sort of way from how the author originally meant it? Last month, some friends — who were mourning the brokenness of the world around them — shared this Paul Tripp quote, and it’s ended up being one of those kind of two-fold phrases for me:

  1. As God’s Spirit works in a Christian’s life we begin to more and more mourn for the hurt and pain of our broken world — as Jesus did — instead of defaulting to anger and irritation at the inconvenience caused us by the brokenness around us. God has used Tripp’s phrase to help me understand the sadness I feel when I see the thorns of this world. I think that’s how he (and my friends) meant the phrase to be read.
  2. But, God has also brought the phrase to mind in an opposite sort of way: when I sense I’m headed toward bitterness, stirred up with anger at my own current difficulties, I’m convicted by the phrase. For grace has visited me. The ugliness of my own self-absorption, and my default desire for “no thorns — flowers only!” does not honor my Lord.

When we’re just plain mad, irritated at the trials and complexities of life, our inner thoughts beginning to curse the difficulties of this world, we must fight to remember the grace poured out for us. When we realize that our desire for all things to line up perfectly stems from a demand that we’d only experience ease, we must question our selfish desire for comfort.

When we’re angry because we want to avoid all angst or unrest, we must fight to remember the grace we’ve experienced through Jesus Christ. We must call our attitude what it is: a pity party, a temper tantrum, a dishonoring of our Lord. As we call ourselves out, and pray for help, He does work within us, so that we might become those who mourn the fallenness of our world, rather than merely cursing its difficulties.

O Father, thank you that you don’t leave us as we are. You do use fiery trials, our own, and those we see all around us, to show us our need of you. Please, by your Spirit, work within us fruit that pleases you, that honors Jesus, that fears not to mourn, as He did, the fallenness of our world.

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Were you hired at the eleventh hour?

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“…And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’” (Matthew 20:9-15)

“…The parable focuses particularly on those workers who were hired at the eleventh hour. They were treated extremely generously, each receiving twelve times what he had earned on an hourly basis. Why did the landowner hire these laborers at the eleventh hour? Was it because an extra push was needed to complete the work? More likely, since Jesus was not teaching about Jewish agriculture, but about the kingdom of heaven, those eleventh hour workers were hired because they needed to receive a day’s wages. Laborers of that day lived a day-to-day existence. That is why the Law required land owners to pay hired men at the end of each day (Deut. 24:15).

This is the way God treats us. Over and over again, the Bible portrays God as gracious and generous, blessing us not according to what we have “earned” but according to our needs — and often beyond our needs. He has already blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3), and He promises to supply every temporal need, again in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

The truth is, we cannot “earn” anything from God apart from His grace. As Jesus said elsewhere, when we have done all that we are commanded, we should say, “We have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). We have not obligated God or earned His blessings. Rather, all blessings come to us “in Christ,” that is, by His grace.

God, however, is not only generous with His grace; He is sovereign in dispensing it. We often speak of “sovereign grace.” In one sense that is a redundant expression. Grace, by definition, must be sovereign. The master of the vineyard expressed it this way, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with my belongings?”

Many are troubled by the apparent unfairness of the landowner. After all, it does seem unfair to pay one-hour workers the same as was paid to those who worked a full twelve hours, who had “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But the one-hour laborers did not think the master was unfair; rather, they considered him very generous. If we are troubled by the apparent unfairness, it is because we tend to identify with the twelve-hour workers. And the more committed we are to serious discipleship, the more apt we are to fall into the trap of envying those who enjoy the blessings of God more than we.

…it does seem unfair to pay one-hour workers the same as was paid to those who worked a full twelve hours…If we are troubled by the apparent unfairness, it is because we tend to identify with the twelve-hour workers…The truth is, we are all eleventh-hour laborers.

The truth is, we are all eleventh-hour laborers. None of us have even come close to loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. None of us have come close to loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–39). So let us learn to be thankful for all God gives to us and not begrudge blessings He gives to others.” (from Jerry Bridges (1929-2016); read the whole article)

Painting: The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet, 1857

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Why did God create us?

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“God created me — and you — to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion — namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy his excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others…We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life. God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. …” (John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life)

“All your people will be righteous.
They will possess their land forever,
for I will plant them there with my own hands
in order to bring myself glory.”
“Yes, joyful are those who live like this!
Joyful indeed are those whose God is the Lord.”

(Is. 60:21, Ps. 144:15)

Related: A royal diadem in the hand of God?

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look at the light

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Look at the light and the shadow falls away.

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Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 8:12)

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lures

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Satan’s counterfeits are many, and his mimics of true joy can feel really good. He sometimes uses pain to tempt us to move away from our relationship with the Lord, but just as often uses pleasurable substitutes: approval from other humans; power over other people; control over our circumstances; a life of ease.

How will we discern when a God-given enjoyment has really become a lure that would lead us astray from the Lord? And then, as we discern, what do we do? What must we remember when we’re tempted to settle for these deadly counterfeits?

First, what we fight to remember:

  • When you realize you’re headed off in search of human approval, you fight to remember this: Jesus alone stands as the Lover of your soul.  You no longer have to live in fear, performing for humans whose approval you covet.  Jesus is the ultimate and only-needed Approver.  His love is preeminent, and He’ll stay with you perfectly — unlike the humans whose approval you’re seeking — no matter what.
  • When you think you must (or begin to want to) control your world on your own, remember: Jesus holds all.  He will never forget you or fail you. He stands ever ready to intercede for you. He died for you. Personally. On the cross. By name. Turn to Him, gaze upon Him — not on the out-of-control situation you want to clamp down on in your own strength. When you work to control your world yourself, you never experience the joy of His being there for you.
  • When you have the urge to seek power for yourself in a search for validation apart from God, pray that you might instead lift your eyes to the Most Powerful. Jesus dethrones you. There is joy in that realization. Humbly bow and worship Him.  Your fear of not being successful or influential is meant to be swallowed up in a desire for His all-mighty Kingship instead.
  • When you seek comfort in order to hide or withdraw, pray that you would remember Jesus’ perfect love (which casts out fear of your crushing world). When you band-aid your pain with the tempter’s pleasures, going after comfort and ease, pray to know His supreme comfort instead. He frees from enslaving desires for comfort, and enables you to re-enter your world with purpose.

A little approval here, a bit of power there. Controlling the situation in my own strength. Withdrawing into my comfortable place. It all seems so harmless.

But, it’s so not.

What questions help expose whether the harmless something is really a lure, pulling me away from God and the true happiness I’m to experience in my relationship with Him? Here are a few:

  1. Am I choosing this “harmless something” because I’m trusting God? Or am I turning from Him?
  2. Does my choice of this harmless something bring glory, through my life, to God? Or am I really seeking glory for me, or comfort or power or approval for me?
  3. Would I be panicked, or angry, if this pleasure, in whichever form, were taken away? Is my anger really a clue that my idol (of power for me, or of comfort or approval or control for me by me) is being tampered with?

Oh Father, help us! Help us, convict us, give us wisdom! Give us powerful love for you when we’re tempted to settle for pleasurable substitutes, for lures, for deadly counterfeits.

Related: Blue hydrangeas and real hope, Armed against the tempter’s hooks, Even more beautiful.

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solemn lessons that lead to joy

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“All is shadow here below! The world is a shadow; and it passes away! The creature is a shadow; and the loveliest and the fondest may be the first to die! Health is a shadow; fading, and in a moment gone! Wealth is a shadow; today upon the summit of affluence, tomorrow at its base, plunged into poverty and dependence! Human friendships and creature affections are but shadows… “Passing Away” is indelibly inscribed upon everything here below! Yet how slow are we to realize the solemn lesson: “What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!”” (Octavius Winslow, 1808-1878)

Sobering words. Solemn lessons. A kind of solemnity we don’t hear much of in our modern world today. Solemnity, though, which leads to wisdom. Solemnity which leads to the wisdom of seriousness about our days, and to the right view of our smallness in relation to God’s greatness. The kind of soberness that faces, head on, the realization of the shortness of life.

Moses said the same, thousands of years earlier. He also said that this kind of soberness leads to awe — the kind of awe which fortifies  us, and ultimately leads to joy. Joy that stays ‘til the end of our life. Recorded for us in Psalm 90, Moses prays to God, and he begins with sobering truth about God’s power:

”Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God…a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night…”

Then, he points out the chasm of difference between us and God:

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty…they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

And because this is true, we need God’s intervention into our thinking about life:

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom…”

Moses finishes: As we learn to number our days, not taking for granted even our very breath, increasingly aware of God’s great Otherness, and our desperate dependence, we grow in another way. We grow in happy satisfaction, glad, sure of His steadfast love. And when we’re sure of His steadfast love, we become people who rejoice:

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

So, yes, “Passing Away!” is indelibly inscribed upon everything here below. God means for us to bow to, not to run from, that truth. In our bowing, He means for you and me to want to, more and more, stop our pursuit of fading shadows. We don’t just need a change of thinking about our shortness of life — we need a desire redistribution. We need a heart of wisdom.

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don’t confuse spiritual gifts with spiritual fruit

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Spiritual gifts “are abilities God gives us to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name: speaking, encouraging, serving, evangelizing, teaching, leading, administering, counseling, discipling, organizing….Spiritual fruit are beauties of character: love, joy, peace, humility, gentleness, self-control.

Spiritual gifts are what we do; spiritual fruit is what we are.

Unless you understand the greater importance of grace and gospel-character for ministry effectiveness, the discernment and use of spiritual gifts may actually become a liability in your ministry. The terrible danger is that we can look to our ministry activity as evidence that God is with us or as a way to earn God’s favor and prove ourselves.

If our hearts remember the gospel and are rejoicing in our justification and adoption, then our ministry is done as a sacrifice of thanksgiving – and the result will be that our ministry is done in love, humility, patience, and tenderness. But if our hearts are seeking self-justification and desiring to control God and others by proving our worth through our ministry performance, we will identify too closely with our ministry and make it an extension of ourselves. The telltale signs of impatience, irritability, pride, hurt feelings, jealousy, and boasting will appear. We will be driven, scared, and either too timid or too brash. And perhaps, away from the public glare, we will indulge in secret sins. These signs reveal that ministry as a performance is exhausting us and serves as a cover for pride in either one of its two forms, self-aggrandizement or self-hatred.

Here’s how this danger can begin. Your prayer life may be nonexistent, or you may have an unforgiving spirit toward someone, or sexual desires may be out of control. But you get involved in some ministry activity, which draws out your spiritual gifts. You begin to serve and help others, and soon you are affirmed by others and told what great things you are doing. You see the effects of your ministry and conclude that God is with you. But actually God was E24FC18C-D312-4700-B70E-F4F98D32E33Bhelping someone through your gifts even though your heart was far from him. Eventually, if you don’t do something about your lack of spiritual fruit and instead build your identity on your spiritual gifts and ministry activity, there will be some kind of collapse. You will blow up at someone or lapse into some sin that destroys your credibility. And everyone, including you, will be surprised. But you should not be. Spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit is like a tire slowly losing air.” (Tim Keller)

(For a longer, excellent article on spiritual gifts, see this pdf of Keller’s Discerning and Exercising Spiritual Gifts. And related: How to turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God.)

”But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

(Galatians 5:22-23)

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