Christ Loved Us, the Ugly Sister, and He’s Making Us Beautiful

(this post is a follow up to my post yesterday on Jacob’s not so fun experience with God’s providence through his Uncle Laban, while wandering outside the promised land)

Like Jacob’s wilderness wanderings in Padan-Aram, Christ experienced his own wilderness wanderings on earth and suffered greatly because of our sins. He took on the form of a servant and was obedient to the point of death on a cross to win us as his bride (Phil. 2:5-11; Eph. 5:25-32).

But unlike Jacob, he loved the unlovely. We weren’t pretty like Rachel, we were the ugly ones who were sinners by nature and hated God (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1-3). And yet, he loved us, unlovely sinners that we are, and died on the cross, experiencing the greatest exile of all (Isa. 53:8; Matt. 27:46). But he rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand in glory and we are united to him forever through faith and by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Phil. 2:9-11).

And we look forward to the consummation of our marriage in the new heavens and new earth at the wedding supper of the lamb, where we will be arrayed in bright white garments like a beautiful bride, remade in his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Rev. 19:6-9). And he will not look upon us with regret or despise us, like Jacob did Leah. Rather, He will be so happy to see us face to face and we will weep tears of joy and ask ourselves why did he choose us to be his bride?! Such AMAZING grace and love!!!

Beloved, let us gladly love and serve him out of hearts filled with gratitude and strengthened by His Spirit! For these light and momentary afflictions are nothing in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us with Christ in heaven (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17).

In the words of Iain Duguid, “God takes only bent instruments and slowly begins to straighten them. He takes only untuned hearts and slowly begins to tune them to his praise. It all takes time, but God is not in a hurry. God’s consistent purpose, during whatever times of exile and disappointment he takes you through, is to prepare you for future service and a deepened appreciation of his grace. Submit to his loving purpose, therefore, willingly and ungrudgingly. The wilderness years are indeed hard. Ask Jacob! But the wilderness is not our home. Laban’s house is not Jacob’s place, as he reminds Jacob. Laban’s house is his temporary address. Jacob’s place is at Bethel, the place where God first revealed himself to Jacob by his grace. Home, for Jacob and for you and me, is on the other side of the wilderness, where we shall be in God’s house forever, tuned with perfect pitch. In the meantime, we listen intently for the sounds of home, and the faint strains of that foreign song summon us on through the weary desert. The reminders of God’s grace fill us with renewed vigor and grateful, thankful, longing hearts.” Amen!

(This post is taken from a sermon on Genesis 29:1-30 that I preached at Redeemer Reformation Church. If you’d like to hear the whole sermon, you can listen here.)

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A Thanksgiving Meditation: Prayer with Thanksgiving is a Shield Against Fear and Self-Absorption

Have you ever noticed that often when Paul instructs the churches to pray he admonishes them to pray with thanksgiving?

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving“. . .”do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. . .”Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Why does Paul place such an emphasis on praying with thanksgiving? For at least two reasons: Because prayer with thanksgiving is a shield against fear and self-absorption.

1. A Shield Against Fear

The one who never thanks God is easily given to fear and self-absorption. You see, thanking God for past and present blessings casts out fear and fuels confidence for future grace. This is why it is so important to pray thankfully. When you are daily reminding yourself of God’s grace to you in Christ and thanking Him for all of the temporal and eternal blessings that you have from his good and sovereign hand it encourages you to trust Him for the future. You can say, with confidence, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds it. . .He is a good God and he has proven it to me ultimately in Christ” (Romans 8:31-37).

Commenting on Psalm 136, Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

“Let us thank him that we have seen, proved, and tasted that he is good. He is good beyond all others; indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of all good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he serves the constant gratitude of his people.”

As Spurgeon notes, he is serving the “constant gratitude of his people”, including you! Have you noticed lately how he has served your gratitude daily and prayed thankfully? The sooner you start noticing his goodness to you in daily temporal blessings, and the all-sufficient eternal blessings that are yours in Christ by faith, the sooner you will stop worrying about the future.

Gratitude is a shield against fear! This is why Paul says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7)Notice the connection between the exhortation not to be anxious and to pray with thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving is a vital element in the kind of prayer that casts out anxiety and experiences the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

2. A Shield Against Self-Absorption

And not only is gratitude a shield against fear it’s also a shield against self-absorption. The one who does not thank God on a regular basis is also given to self-absorption. Why? Because the blessings that they have they take for granted as if they earned them apart from God. It’s a form of practical atheism and a practical denial of our sinfulness and God’s grace. It’s also a form of idolatry as it worships the gift rather than the Giver. And thus, a lack of thankfulness is a turning within, a form of self-absorption. This is why we need to pray thankfully, namely because it’s a shield against fear and self-absorption. When we pray thankfully we live in confidence and are rightly absorbed with God and praising Him for who He is and what He’s done for us in Christ. And this is what will bring us ultimate delight and satisfaction in this life and the next.

And for us who know the AMAZING GRACE of God in Christ, thanksgiving should be a natural, joyous, and constant disposition. Joel Beeke writes,

“We are so prone to count our one or two troubles and so quick to dwell upon that one unkind word more than upon another hundred kind words for which we should be so deeply thankful. True thankfulness brings us close to the heart of God, to His love and grace. True thankfulness realizes that anything short of hell is grace.”

Conclusion

And so, pray with thanksgiving, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” And God is worthy of our thanksgiving! So let us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”. . .“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift [Christ]!. . .AND. . .“from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Psalm 136:1; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Romans 11:36)

My Rant for the Month: Preach Christ!

Yesterday I listened to a sermon on the topic of morality by a local pastor of a large church and it was all law and no gospel. Christ wasn’t even mentioned, not even in the prayer of application. It was really sad to me to think that all those people went to Church and didn’t hear Christ proclaimed or even mentioned by name in the preaching and prayer of application. It reminds me of something that Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse once said. Over a half century ago Barnhouse asked what a city might look like where Satan had really taken control? And he offered his own scenario. Barnhouse speculated that “if Satan took over a city, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”

We NEED Christ proclaimed EVERY week from the pulpit. We NEED to hear the gospel in EVERY sermon or it causes us to become either self-righteous proud Pharisees or to despair and burn out. But when we hear Christ proclaimed, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, session and return, it frees us up to truly love God and others out of gratitude and not fear. It humbles us and strengthens us. And when we are called to depend on the Spirit’s strength through Word, sacrament, and prayer, we give God all the glory from beginning to end! Pastors, myself included, preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:20-24; 2:2; Col. 1:28; John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27, 44; John 8:56; Col. 2:1-3)! If your pastor doesn’t preach Christ and Gospel-driven, Spirit-wrought sanctification, be warned, you might be a Pharisee or on the brink of despair. Who cares about church programs if Christ isn’t being preached?! The gospel is the power of God for salvation, from beginning to end, for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16)!

In light of Reformation weekend coming up, that’s my rant for the month. Here I stand!

(Click on the above image to check out the best book out there on preaching Christ from all the Scriptures)

“What does it look like to celebrate grace?”

In the words of Paul Tripp:‎

“Pastor, it’s like us waking up in the morning and saying, “I’m redeemed. I’m redeemed. I’m redeemed. I can’t believe that I am one of God’s children! I can’t believe that God has placed his love on me. I can’t belive he has called me to his work! No, my life and ministry isn’t always easy, but I’m redeemed. No, the relationships with people around me don’t always work the way they should, but I’m redeemed. Yes, I live in a world that is broken and does not operate as intended, but I’m redeemed. Yes, I face personal and ministry disappointment, but I’m redeemed. I can’t believe it, I am one of God’s children and one his spokesmen!. . .So, pastor, are you a celebrant? Has your life taken on a joy and focus that would not be possible any other way? Or in the course of your ministry, has the truly awesome become merely commonplace? Has the search for ministry comfort and satisfaction consumed you more than the celebration of the spiritual realities that should now define you and your work? Has remembrance decayed into forgetfulness? Have you lost your first love? If so, confess your forgetfulness. Seek God’s help for your distraction. Commit yourself to a life and ministry of celebration, knowing that this includes being a soldier in the ongoing war for your own heart. And remember that you are not alone; there is daily grace for every one of those battles. Now, isn’t that worth celebrating?”

Read the whole thing here.

Obeying God When It Hurts

Genesis 17 is an important chapter of the Bible. God further strengthens Abraham’s faith by bringing greater clarity to his promises in the Abrahamic Covenant and by giving him a sign and seal of the covenant, namely circumcision. If you want to learn more about circumcision and what it meant you can listen to this.

For now I would like to highlight something from my sermon from yesterday that often get’s overlooked in Genesis 17 (cf. Gen. 17:18-27), namely:

ABRAHAM’S REMARKABLE OBEDIENCE

Abraham’s obedience is remarkable here for at least three reasons:

First, because he obeyed when things didn’t go his way. God just told him a plan that was different than what he had expected and hoped for. And instead of being angry at God and kicking and screaming at God’s sovereignty he submitted to God.

How hard is that for us? When things don’t go your way and you are frustrated with God’s will what is your response? Give God the silent treatment (i.e. stop praying), skip church, start sinning. We all so easily succumb to sin when things go wrong, don’t we?

But Abraham obeys God by circumcising his WHOLE household. He has the attitude of Job here, who after suffering the loss of his health, his house and his family said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15)Or in the words of Horatio Spafford who lost his own house and wife and children, “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. . .It is well with my soul.”

Secondly, this is remarkable obedience because it was painful. No doubt it was painful to be circumcised at 100 years old during a time before anesthetics! And could you imagine the reaction he got from the men in his household? “Get that sharp object away from me!!!. . .what are you crazy?!?!”

But beloved, sometimes obedience to God is painful. It might mean persecution at work. It might mean paying your taxes even when things are financially difficult. It might mean patiently persevering with your husband or wife’s sins and not giving up on your marriage. It might mean denying yourself sexual pleasure until God is pleased to give you a spouse.Acts 14:22 says, “through MANY tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” BUT REMEMBER, whatever suffering we face in this life, it won’t be worth comparing to the glory that awaits us!

Thirdly, this is remarkable obedience because it’s immediate. We read in v. 26 and following, “That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.” Abraham obeyed God, THAT VERY DAY! According to Genesis 14:14 he had at least 318 men born in his household!

Here’s the point: Delayed obedience is disobedience. Parents, you know the frustration of telling your toddler to come inside for dinner and after the tenth warning they finally come. Or you know the frustration of telling a teenager to clean their room and you come back a few hours later and it’s still a mess and they say, “Chill out, I’m getting to it.” It’s frustrating! And I’m thankful my parents put up with my delayed obedience!

But in many ways we all are like toddlers and teenagers. We often treat our sins this way, where we know that something is sinful and yet we resolve to “improve our behavior later.” Or we only want to obey God when it’s convenient for us. That’s Satan’s lie, “enjoy this today, you can always obey tomorrow when it’s more convenient. . .just have a little pleasure now. . .you can improve your behavior tomorrow.” Beloved, delayed obedience is NOT obedience. Whatever obedience you are delaying, put your sin to death and obey God today!  Why? Simply put, in the words of Paul: “You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19) Respond to God’s grace with thankfulness!

THE MOST REMARKABLE OBEDIENCE OF ALL

Beloved, you have been given the greatest gift that anyone could ever receive in Jesus.

He is the to whom the promises made to Abraham ultimately pointed. He is the one who was born in a miraculous way of a virgin woman. He is Abraham’s offspring in whom all the nations are blessed. And he is the one who supremely displays remarkable obedience. As obedient as Abraham was, he was still a sinner who needed God’s grace. But Christ is the one who obeys PERFECTLY in a remarkable way for us.

His obedience was immediate. It was always his delight to do the Father’s will, even when it was inconvenient for him (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29).

His obedience was painful. No one suffered like our Lord (Isaiah 53). The pain of circumcision that Abraham and his household experienced ultimately foreshadowed the pain of Christ’s circumcision on the cross, where he was cut off from the land of the living and forsaken by God the Father (Isa. 53:8; Matt. 27:46; Col. 2:11-12).

And no doubt He obeyed, even though things didn’t always go his way, in one sense. No doubt the Son was one with the Father in the eternal plan of salvation and sovereignly ordains all things. But no doubt like us, in his humanity, he experienced the same fears and frustrations that we all experience when things don’t go our way. He was despised and rejected, he was acquainted with grief. He was mocked and beaten and spit upon and died on a cross. And when he thought about the cross in the garden of Gethsemane, in the mystery of the incarnation, he was sorrowful and afraid of God’s sovereign plan, and yet, he prayed, “not my will but your’s be done” (Luke 22:39-44) And he trusted himself to his Father’s sovereign and good plan and suffered the wrath of God in our place (Matt. 27:45-50).

And because of his obedience, even unto death on a cross, God the Father highly exalted him and seated him at his right hand and gave him the name that is above every name. . .that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).

Beloved, Jesus went through all of that remarkably painful, inconvenient obedience for a sinner such as you and me.And so, why should we respond with remarkable obedience in our life? Because of what Christ has remarkably done for us. We don’t deserve God’s mercy and love, but he has graciously poured out his love upon us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

And as much as you have sinned, God forgives you completely of all of your sins and declares you righteous in his sight through faith (Rom. 8:1; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Jn. 1:9; Eph. 1:7, 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21). And he has given you the Spirit of Christ so that you are not left to your own strength to obey (Ezek. 36:25-27; Gal. 3:13-14; Phil. 2:12-13; Gal. 5:16). And so, beloved, let us give thanks to God for his grace to us in Christ.And relying on the Spirit’s power let us love him with all of our heart, mind soul and strength, even when it’s hard. And where we fail, let us continually seek refuge in the “blood and righteousness” of Christ alone and look forward to his return where we will be “saved to sin no more.” Amen!