Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rescued to Render - Psalm 116 (part 4)

"What shall I render to the LORD
for all His benefits toward me?
I shall lift up the cup of salvation,
and call upon the name of the LORD."
(Psalm 116:12-13)

David has given numerous reasons for loving His LORD. God has bowed down and heard his prayers. God has saved his life from death and the Sheol. God has proved Himself to be gracious and righteous and compassionate. God has lifted him up when he was brought low. God has dealt bountifully with him and rescued him from tears and stumbling.

God has done much what shall we do in response?

Verses 12-13 tell us. "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD." What does God desire from us? Praise and prayer! That's it!!

There is NOTHING we could ever do that would even come close to repaying God for all that He has done for us - NOTHING. He needs nothing! He has everything! What could we give? Nothing. What ought we give Him? Our earnest and honest worship and devotion. We simply react to His acts!

He has done EVERYTHING for us and there is nothing that we can do to repay Him. There is nothing we can do to earn any greater love or favor or acceptance.

Our praise and our prayers are simply a thank offering for what He has done and an acknowledgement of what He has promised He will do. We have been rescued to render a response of praise and prayer. Our worship of God is a grand and glorious reaction to what He has done. Oh friends, may we react out of overflowing amazement of His mercies to us.

"Lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD" with me.

Loving Him for His wondrous works, praising Him in light of them,

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rescued To Walk - Psalm 116 (part 3)

"For Thou hast rescued my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the LORD,
in the land of the living.
I believed when I said,
'I am greatly afflicted.'
(Psalm 116:8-10)

Psalm 116's "I love the LORD" theme continues. In these 3 verses we are told that David loves the Lord because of His rescuing mercies to him. God has "rescued [his ]soul from death, [his] eyes from tears, and [his] feet from stumbling." I have to tell you, He has done so for me as well - truly He has, repeatedly He has, and undeservedly He has. He has kept me from falling, from utterly failing, and from completely bailing. How I love Him for His protecting and preserving mercies to this poor sinner!

Regarding these three things that God has rescued us from (death, tears and stumbling) Mr. Henry writes:

"First, God saved his soul from death. It is God's great mercy to us that we are alive; and that mercy is the more sensible to us if we have been at death's door and yet have been spared and raised up. Secondly, God saved his eyes from tears, that is, his heart was saved from inordinate grief. Thirdly, God kept his feet from falling, from falling into sin and so into misery. God had done all of this for him, and therefore he will live a life of delight in God. God has dealt kindly with us and therefore we need not fear that ever He will deal hardly with us."

God has rescued all of His children from these things in one way or another. Perhaps you have never physically been at death's door but you have been there spiritually - that is what you were saved from at the moment you put your faith in Christ. Christian, He HAS rescued your soul from death - its sting is eternally removed! Perhaps you have shed tears this day but you will not shed them eternally - they will be wiped away forever in heaven - this is the hope of the gospel as it is applied to your earthly sorrows. Perhaps you have stumbled and fallen in certain areas of your faith. Oh believer, so have I but our God has promised that He will finish that which He has begun in you and that nothing and no one can snatch you out of His hand. You may fall foully but you will never fall fully if you are His.

He HAS rescued us and one of the responses to this Divine rescue is that we should walk in His ways: "I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living." In response to all that God has done this writer of holy revelation declares that he will live a life of devotion to his God. Is that our response to God's rescuing grace? Are we walking in the land of the living or still moping about in the land of the dead? Get up, in His grace, and live for Him!!

Verse 10 was particularly precious to me this morning. It says: "I believed when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted.'" At first reading I almost missed the message. My initial reaction was "well, DUH!! Of course I believed when I was greatly afflicted. I'm hurting, I'm writhing, I'm AFFLICTED - surely I believe that it is true that I am afflicted!" I selfishly and foolishly missed the point.

I don't think that David is saying that he believed he really was afflicted. I believe that he is declaring that he believed WHEN he was greatly afflicted. Matthew Henry describes it like this:
"Though David suffered still he believed. He believed in the being, the providence and the power of God!"
At the reading of those words I must humbly beg of my God to make verse 10 true of me! In light of His rescuing mercy may He enable me to walk and to believe in Him in the midst of any affliction He is pleased to bring my way.

Father, You have rescued my soul from so much. You have enabled me to walk in the land of the living. You have ordained affliction, even at this time of my life, grant me greater faith to believe, rest and trust in Your presence, providence and power.

Loving the Rescuer and praying to live for Him more,

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cords of Death Which Lead to Prayers of Life and Righteous Rest - Psalm 116 (part 2)

"The cords of death encompassed me,
and the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow.
Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
'O LORD, I beseech Thee, save my life!'
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
yes, our God is compassionate.
The LORD preserves the simple;
I was brought low and He saved me.
Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
(Psalm 116:3-7)

Psalm 116 begins with "I love the Lord" and here a second reason for loving God is given.

David loves the Lord because of the gracious and righteous compassion He has bestowed upon him. He has been on the threshhold of death's door, he has faced the fiery furnace of the grave, and he has drunk deeply of distress and sorrow. Things have not been good and pleasant and peachy keen. This fellow has experienced terribly trying troubles and they have moved him to seek the face of God. In doing so, the ear bowing God has heard, has answered, and has saved.

Notice several things with me. First, this prayer of David is neither long nor eloquent. On the contrary it is short and to the point. It is simply, "Save my life!"

Sometimes less is more. We do not need to spew forth many words to be heard. We simply need to utter honest words. "O LORD, I beg you, save my life!" Here is a prayer that acknowledges and expresses need - real need - sincerely realized real need. This simple prayer is to the point as are some of my other favorite prayers in Scripture: "Oh Lord, I believe, help my unbelief" and "O God, have mercy on me a sinner." This is powerful praying!

Second, the character of God is the hope and surety of answered prayer. Look at the description of the One to whom this troubled soul is crying out to. "Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate." This is a God whom we can trust. He will not treat us as we deserve for He is gracious. He will not treat us wrongly for He is righteous. He will not treat us callously for He is compassionate. Beloved, this is the God with whom we have to deal in prayer. Are you encompassed, terrorized, distressed and sorrowful? Flee to this glorious God in prayerful earnestness and true submission.

Third, by casting ourselves upon Him in prayer there is rest. Here is one who has NOT been at rest. Death has dogged David. Hell has hounded him. Sorrow has saddened him. Things have not been restful they are stressful. Yet, he has prayed to the great God who listens to the cries of His children and what is the result? David will return to his rest. "Return to your rest, O my soul, for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you."

In Him alone there is rest. Are you weary and heavy laden? Come to our Lord! In honest and simple prayer, return to your rest "for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you."

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28).



Sunday, March 28, 2010

God Bows Down, Are We Praying Up? - Psalm 116 (part 1)

"I love the Lord,
because He hears my voice and my supplications.
Because He has bowed down His ear to me,
therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.
(vs 1-3)

"I love the Lord...." It is true that I do and the 116th Psalm is full of the reasons why I should love Him. It is full of reasons for this psalm's particular writer and it is full of reasons for this particular psalm reader.

The heading in my Bible refers to this chapter of God's Word as "A Psalm of thanksgiving for delieverance from death." As I have spent some time drinking it in I think I would have to personally title it "A Psalm of thanksgiving for all that God has done for Lori Sealy." This one has hit home. Sadly, I know that I will not be able to do justice to that which has moved me to tears of amazement and to a heart filled with thanksgiving and praise. I do love the Lord and this Psalm clearly expresses many of the reasons why I do!

David begins with a simple statement: "I love the Lord." His first "because" is related to God's condescending act of hearing and answering our prayers.

Have you ever thought of just what a phenomenal picture of humility prayer is? Perhaps you've thought about it from YOUR perspective - I know I have. For me, to pray is an act of admitting that I have a need that is beyond myself. I don't always like to admit that - OK, I seldom like to admit that - which is one of the reasons prayer is hard. It is hard because I am proud and far too pretendedly self-sufficient.

However the greatest act of humility is not that I humble my proud self to make a request to the King of the universe but that this King of kings actually pauses to listen to that request!!

The passage says that "He hears my voice and my supplications." Millions upon millions of people are calling out his name and yet He hears me as if I were the only one! And He answers me as only a loving Father can and will! Wow!! That is one good reason to love Him!

Verse two describes this listening act as God bowing down His ear to us. Does that not blow you away? The Holy God - the infinite and majestic LORD of Lords - the only One worthy of praise - the Creator of everything - the Righteous Judge of all the earth "has bowed down His ear to me."

Pause to let that truth digest. "He has bowed down His ear to me."

OK - here's your "if/then" question for the day. IF God is willing to stoop down to hear us THEN why are we not more prone to lift up our prayers to Him?! Why do we not much more often come boldly before the throne of grace?

Verse two puts the "if/then" prayer encouragement into a "therefore" form. "Because He has bowed down His ear to me, THEREFORE I shall call upon Him as long as I live."

Friends, He is listening are we praying?!

Loving Him because He listens,

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thorny Grace - 2 Corinthians 12

" keep me from exalting myself,
there was given me a thorn in the flesh,
a messenger of Satan to buffet me -
to keep me from exalting myself!
Concerning this I entreated the Lord
three times that it might depart from me.
And He has said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is perfected in weakness.'
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather
boast about my weaknesses,
that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses,
with insults, with distresses, with persecutions,
with difficulties, for Christ's sake;
for when I am weak, then I am strong."
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

I don't know if you've ever had a thorn in your flesh, but if you have you KNOW that there is NOTHING pleasant about it. Thorns hurt! Embedded thorns hurt more! Embedded, festering thorns hurt like the dickens! Ouch!!

Here, Paul is not speaking of a literal physical thorn in the literal physical flesh. He's not walking around like Aesop's lion, crying over a prickly boo boo. Paul has a thorn in the flesh of His soul. There is a deep cutting affliction, trial, temptation, and struggle that is wearing on this apostle. It hurts and it humbles. There are several lessons to be learned in this text.

First, our thorns have a purpose. The text lets us know that humility was the purpose of this "thorn". "There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me - to keep me from exalting myself!"

Paul had MUCH he could boast about. He was a gifted man. He had a fine pedigree. He had an excellent resume'. He had even just been caught up in a heavenly revelation (vs 1-6). He could be a proud man. However, God doesn't call us to be haughty but humble and this thorn, whatever it was, would help keep Paul in that place. This pulsating pain would always remind Him to boast in His God and not in himself. What thorn pricks at you and does it make you mad or mindful?

Second, thorns have a source. Paul tells us that this thorn came as a "messenger of Satan to buffet" him.

The devil delivered this spirit piercing splinter and if he had his way he would destroy Paul with it. Our enemy comes "to steal, kill and to destroy." He "roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." He didn't come hoping merely to inflict a flesh wound upon the apostle but a death blow. Thankfully "God is bigger than the boogie man" and Satan could only go as far as Paul's Father would allow. "Satan sent it with ill designs but God overruled it for good" (Henry) What comfort there is in knowing that our arch-enemy is a defeated devil. He is on a leash. He can growl and taunt and tempt and terrify us, but he can do nothing more than our great King will allow him to do. He can buffet us. He can not destroy us! And all of his flailing attempts will ultimately be used for our sanctifying good. Are we living as a defeated victims where our thorny afflictions are concerned or are we rejoicing in the sovereign and omnipotent hand of our God?

Third, thorns should drive us to prayer. "Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me."

Paul prayed and he prayed persistently that this painful prick would be removed. An answer was not given the first time so he begged again, and again, and again.

Paul wrestled like Jacob regarding this thorn. Are we? Are we bombarding the throne of heaven regarding our thorns? Matthew Henry writes: "As troubles are sent to teach us to pray, so they are continued to teach us to continue in prayer." How's your prayer life, oh pricked one?

Fourth, thorns teach us about the sufficiency of God's grace. "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you....'"

God is God and He will answer our prayers when and how He will. Here, God's answer was not to remove the thorn but to grant the grace that would enable Paul to bear the thorn. Though God hears and accepts the prayers of His children, He does not always answer them as we would wish. He knows best what we need most and at times what we need most is to bear patiently, by His grace, rather than to be freed fully. There are many lessons to be learned that can only be learned under the pulsating pain of the thorns of life. David put it this way, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes." (Ps 119:71). What are we learning about God's grace in our trials that we would not have learned in our comforts?

Fifth, thorns teach us to recognize our own weakness and to realize God's strength. "And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Paul's infirmities were far greater opportunities for Christ to manifest the power and sufficiency of His grace than a miraculous removal would have ever been. When we are weak in and of ourselves then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thorns can teach us just how awesome and mighty and powerful our Father is. Have our thorns been used to reveal our weakness and utter inability? Has our weakened state caused us to recognize our absolute need for His omnipotent mercy? If so, we've learned a good thing from our thorns!

God's sufficient grace to us in our painful places can serve as a wonderful platform for boasting about Him. Thorns can serve as great gospel opportunities. If we are content...

"Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

People watch the wounded. If our suffering is accompanied with contentment rather than grumbling and complaining it can serve as living monument to God's mercies. Contentment is a key. Everybody gripes not everybody "considers it all joy" (James 1).

Paul ends this thorny section of his epistle with a "therefore" of contentment. In light of all that he has written regarding his thorn (its humbling purpose, its Satanic source, its prompting to prayer, its lessons in God's grace and human weakness) he has learned to be content - for Christ's sake. Have we?

I suppose that's the bottom line that convicted me. I have thorns in my life. Am I bearing them for Christ's sake and in Christ's grace and by Christ's power or am I simply grumbling and complaining because I don't like them? Perspective makes all the difference. Am I thorn centered? Me centered? Or Christ centered?

Oh Lord, help me to be focused on Christ where the splinters of my life are concerned. Your grace IS sufficient. Thank you for it!

In His sufficient grace,

Monday, March 22, 2010

Commending Ourselves in Everything - 2 Corinthians 6

"Giving no cause for offense in anything,
in order that the ministry be not discredited,
but in everything commending ourselves
as servants of God,
in much endurance, in afflictions,
in hardships, in distresses,
in beatings, in imprisonments,
in tumults, in labors,
in sleeplessness, in hunger...."
(2 Corinthians 6:3-5)

I tend to like to have it easy. In the "easy" it seems to be somewhat easier to not cause offense and not tarnish the name of Christ. When all is hunky-dory I can smile and glorify my God. When the bottom falls out - well....

Here in 2 Corinthians 6 we see that we are not to be "offensive ambassadors" in "anything." But instead we are to commend ourselves as servants of the most high God in "everything." Read it again, in "everything"! Everything we do is important for the kingdom of Christ - EVERYTHING.

As a wife and mom I have learned that the way I treat the folks in the grocery store, at the bank, in the library, and at the park really matters - it's part of "everything". My actions (and reactions) in those places are a reflection of my Father and as His child I really do long to bring Him honor and not dishonor.

So, when things are going really well I seek to honor Him and do so with some semblance of ease. But what about the days when the kids are disobedient, when I have a headache, when I didn't get a good night's sleep, when the clerk is a jerk, etc.? Hear Paul as he spanks us regarding "everything":

"In EVERYTHING commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger."

Thanks, Paul! You just blew all of my excuses!!

Matthew Henry says: "Those who would approve themselves to God must approve themselves faithful in trouble as well as in peace. Not only doing the work of God diligently, but also bearing the will of God patiently." Ouch! Why do I read Henry?!

Hand over mouth! God, grant me the grace to give no cause for offense on my good days and on my bad days and help me to commend myself to you in everything that you might be glorified in everything.

In His glorious grace,

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blessed Imputation - 2 Corinthians 5

"He made Him who knew no sin
to be sin on our behalf,
that we might become the righteousness
of God in Him."
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

Only a few verses back, Paul reminded us of the change that Christ makes in a life. Old things are made new. Here we see the reason.

Where did the old go? Where did the new come from? The old, the sin, the black damning stain went to Christ. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf." The Lord Jesus Christ took our "old" upon Himself at Calvary.

What is this "new" that we become? And what is its source? The new, the brilliantly clean heart that is within us and the glorious robe that is upon us came from Christ - "that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Blessed imputation!! Merciful salvation!!

This is the gospel. My sin for His righteousness. How great is the love of the Father for us. How amazing is the sacrifice of the Son on our behalf. How powerful is the life giving, life changing work of the Spirit in us.

Oh sinner - flee to Jesus. Your filthy rags may be traded in for the robe of His righteousness.

Righteous in Him,

Friday, March 19, 2010

New - 2 Corinthians 5

"If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old is gone, the new has come."
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Christ changes lives. 22 years ago He changed mine - RADICALLY! I am not who I once was and am overwhelmingly humbled by that fact! He makes old things wonderfully new, disposable things to be of eternal value, dead things eternally alive, and sinful things gloriously righteous. What has He made you?

If you have not been changed then it may be wise to ask yourself if you have been saved. Christ did not save us to leave us as we were.

Adam Clarke in his comentary on 2 Corinthians writes: "It is vain for a man to profess affinity to Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in his heart and life, and dead in his trespasses and sins." Oh, God - spare us from this form of vanity.

Your past may not have been as checkered as my own but we all are under the fall's curse, we all are by nature children of wrath, and we all are in bondage to sin. Bottom line - we all need to be changed.

HAVE you been changed? Are you different since meeting Christ? If the answer is no, may I be so bold as to question you as to whether you have every truly met Him.

He makes the slave to be free. He makes the proud to be humble. He doesn't merely fix us up, He makes us new. He makes us a new creation. That which was chaotic and without order is now made a masterpiece by the Master Craftsman. Are you among His prized creations? In Christ, you can be.

Changed, re-created, and new,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Momentary and Light - 2 Corinthians 4

"For momentary, light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight
of glory far beyond all comparison."
(2 Corinthians 4:17)

Several years ago, while reading Charles Spurgeon's "Morning and Evening," I ran across this quote: "That which seems to us a crushing burden is to Him but a speck of dust." It stuck with me and this morning it flooded my memory as I read this verse.

I've been in a very long and incredibly weighty trial. It has been 11 months of difficult testing and of refining fire - greater than any trial I've ever faced - ever! It seems like I've been in this spot for an eternity. It seems like it may never end. It seems a "crushing burden." That's the way it "seems" but things are not always as they seem and this verse is a good reminder of that fact.

While 11 months seems like a long time when you are chained to "the rack" - it is in reality less than a blip on the radar screen of eternity. A good friend recently reminded me of Joseph's 14 years in prison. From our perspective that doesn't seem very momentary - its 14 years of a life -but from an eternal perspective 14 years is nothing! Blip!!

Take it a step further. Even if we were under the continual torture of excruciating pain and suffering from the day of our birth to the day of our death and all of that happening constantly over the course of an average life span - 70 years - even that is truly only momentary in the light of eternity. Blip!! And friends - we are eternal beings. This life is but a vapor!

Time can seem long and things can seem heavy. However, Paul is reminding us - as was Spurgeon - that crushing weights are lighter than feathers to our God. They are "light"! Here Paul is striving to help us take our eyes off of the momentary and place them on the everlasting. Yes, what we have in the here and now may be hard - very hard - but let us stack up the temporal against the eternal - BLIP!! And let us weigh the weight of the here and now on the scale of the glory that is to come! No comparison!

Matthew Henry writes that Paul "saw their sufferings working toward heaven. They would end at last." Yes, they will end at last and they will end forever and ever.

Let us weigh things upon God's scale that we might find the glory of heaven to be so much greater than the grind of earth.

Henry goes on to say: "That which sense was ready to pronounce heavy and long, faith perceived to be light and short and but for a moment. Faith enabled them to make a right judgment. Unseen things are eternal, seen things are temporary. By faith we not only discern these things and the great difference between them, but by faith we actually take our aim at the unseen things."

By faith we take our aim at them and by grace we apprehend them. If you are under the seemingly long and heavy weight of suffering may our gracious God enable you, by grace through faith, to view your times through His eternal lens. If you are His, oh suffering servant, know that He is producing an eternal weight of glory in you through your trial and that eternal weight is a freeing weight beyond all comparison.

Taking aim at the eternal,

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Big "But" Is a Good Thing - 2 Corinthians 4

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not desparing;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;"
(2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

My son has been studying conjunctions in his 2nd grade grammar curriculum. Just in case you don't know, conjunctions are little words that link other words, phrases or clauses. The most common conjunctions are "and", "but", and "or". They are little words, however, in this passage one conjunction is HUGE with meaning!

Once again Paul is speaking of suffering - it is a common theme because it is common to man. Take comfort knowing that you are not alone as a sufferer. Take greater comfort in the use of the conjunction "but" as it links your sufferings to the hope that is ours in Christ!

You may be afflicted in every way, BUT you are not crushed. You may be perplexed, BUT you are not despairing. You may be persecuted, BUT you are not forsaken. You may be struck down, BUT you are not destroyed. Those are big buts!!

Henry writes: "They are suffering greatly. Still they were preserved and their heads were kept above water. Whatever condition the children of God may be in, in this world they have a grand 'but not' to comfort themselves with."

I don't know about you but I AM comforted by those three little linking letters. They link my seemingly hopeless situations to the God of hope. They link my sufferings to the God of comfort. They link my rough and rocky paths to the God who makes the way smooth. They link my circumstances to sovereignty. Oh my afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down friends - there is a big "but" - rest in the God who has granted it!

In His glorious grace,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Source of Our Adequacy - 2 Corinthians 3

"Not that we are adequate in ourselves
to consider anything as coming from ourselves,
but our adequacy is from God."
(2 Corinthians 3:5)

As I read these words from Paul's pen I was reminded at just how often one of the members of the "god-head" of our man-made sinful trinity rise up in idolatrous fashion . 1st John records that as fallen men we are often given over to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life." Matthew Henry says, "here is the trinity that the wicked worship." How true.

Looking at verse 5 I recognized that far too often one, if not all, of the characters of this "trinity" weasel their way onto the throne of my life and rule me. Here, in the scenario before us, it is "the boastful pride of life" that has stealthily slipped in and he has crept in under the guise of self-confidence - self-confidence as opposed to God-confidence.

How often do I find adequacy in my own feigned self-sufficiency?! How often am I pridefully confident in MY abilities as though they were something that came from me?!?! Far too often. Far, far too often I must confess!

This verse reminds us that we are who we are because of God. If we have anything good in us it is of His grace and mercy - completely!! We are not adequate in ourselves - we are adequate in our God!

My friends, may we tear down the false idol of prideful self-confidence and may we bow the knee to the God from whom all blessings flow.

Adequate in Christ and in Christ alone,


Friday, March 12, 2010

Our Duty to the Repentant - 2 Corinthians 2

"Sufficient for such a one is this punishment
which was inflicted by the majority,
so that on the contrary you should rather
forgive and comfort him, lest somehow
such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
Wherefore I urge you to
reaffirm your love for him."
(2 Corinthians 2:6-8)

Here in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul is making reference to a church discipline situation that happened within this ancient congregation. It was a vile situation. A man had carried on an affiar with his step-mother. It was public. It was bad. It was a mess!

The church did the right thing. They didn't overlook the sin. They didn't ignore it. They dealt with it. They followed the commands of our Lord in Matthew 18 and the ecclesiastical rod bore the fruit of repentance! That's good news!!

The whole purpose of church discipline is to see a brother or sister restored. It is to bring the wayward sheep home. It is not for shunning but for shepherding. It is for our good and for God's glory. Paul is making sure that the flock of Corinth understand this.

He reminds them that the punishment that has already been inflicted upon this one was sufficient. He's taken his spanking and he's learned from it! So, now what do they do? Come on, this guy was behaving in a "disgusting" fashion. Surely Paul wouldn't want them to get to close. What if.....? (fill in the blank from your own thoughts).

So, now what do they do? They need to "forgive him and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." This brother has blown it and this brother has been restored and our enemy, the devil (who is the father of lies and the accuser of the brethren) would like nothing more than to drive this repentant one to deep and dark despair. Satan HATES repentance and he is a sneaky and coniving enemy who will seize any opportunity to steal, kill, and destroy. What better way for him to have success in his dastardly deeds than to involve the church in them!! Paul recognizes this and even exhorts them regarding the fact in verse 11. He tells them to forgive this wounded lamb "in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes." Let us not be ignorant of his schemes either!

Do you know one like this penitent? Do you know one who has behaved abominably and has been brought to a place of sack cloth and ashes? How are you treating them?

Oh I pray that we are treating them as Christ has treated us - with forgiveness and comfort. Let not the restored one be overwhelmed by despairing condemnation. Instead, "reaffirm your love for him." Christ is full of compassion for those who truly repent, may we be likewise.

In His glorious grace,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our Duty to the Despairing - 2 Corinthians 1

"You also joining in helping us
through your prayers,
that thanks may be given by many persons
on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us
through the prayers of many."
(1 Cor 1:11)

Paul has just recounted a very dark time in his life to the Corinthian church. He has spoken of His despair and of the God who raised him from death's gloom and taught him to trust. He has reminded them to set their hope on the God of hope and to rest in His deliverance. He has also called them to prayer.

That's important and we need not miss it. Paul has had "the sentence of death within himself". He has hurt. He has suffered. The Father of Christ has saved the day and one of the means He has used in doing so has been the prayers of God's people.

Obviously Paul is sharing these things with Corinth because they are suffering. He has been pointing them to the God of all mercy and comfort. He has been challenging them to consider that the comfort which they will receive is to be shared with others. He is reminding them that the God who delivered him will deliver them. And...he's pushing them to pray.

The greatest thing we can offer for one who is suffering is our prayers. Are we offering that? Are you standing in the gap for those who are desparing? If no, then start. If yes, then continue knowing that in due time you will reap the opportunity of giving thanks for God's answers.

Praying and in need of prayer,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Despairing in Order to Trust - 2 Corinthians 1

"For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren,
of our affliction which came to us in Asia,
that we were burdened excessively,
beyond our strength,
so that we despaired even of life;
indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves
in order that we should not trust in ourselves,
but in God who raises the dead;
who delivered us from so great a peril of death,
and will deliver us,
He on whom we have set our hope.
And He will yet deliver us,
you also joining in helping us through your prayers
that thanks may be given by many persons
on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us
through the prayers of many."
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

I am quite often "struck" and "pierced" by a passage of Scripture. If you peruse my blog with any frequency at all you know that is true. I use those words regularly - perhaps too regularly. Maybe I need to spend some time with Roget and find some synonyms!

These particular verses did more than "strike" and "pierce" - they cut to the quick and grabbed hold of my heart and mind like metal to a magnet!

For over 15 years I've read through 2 Corinthians 1. The declaration of God as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" has been obvious. The challenge to view our sufferings as an opportunity to comfort others as we ourselves have been comforted has always been noted. However, a few weeks ago, as I read through this great chapter, something else got my attention - and it got my attention BIG TIME!

Paul - the great apostle, the bold evangelist, the mighty apologist, the prolific letter writer of so much of the New Testament, the GIANT of the faith - despaired even of life! Take it in: Paul despaired even of life! WHOA! I thought I was alone on that one - or at least only numbered amongst the slightly unstable!!

Follow his words with me. Look at them closely. Let them sink in.

In his opening comments he writes: "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren of our affliction which came to us in Asia...." Paul wants to know that we get what he is saying about this. He doesn't want us to miss it. He doesn't want us to "be unaware" regarding this great affliction that he has faced. So, let us pay close attention and let us be WELL aware.

The apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering and he was no stranger to the intense despondancy that sometimes accompanies it. While in Asia he was "burdened EXCESSIVELY" and this excessive burden was "beyond [his] own strength." It was so much beyond his own strength that he "despaired even of life." The pillar of apostleship was ready to tank!

I don't know about you, but that actually comforts me greatly. There are times when I am ready to throw in the towel. There are times when my weakness far exceeds my strength and when my sin seems to be so much greater than my sanctification. I have been to the point of despairing of life. I have personally been far too close to the edge of bailing on life - and obviously I've not been alone in that dark place! Even this is common to man - common even to redeemed man (1 Cor 10:13). It was common to Paul!

We're not told what the specific trouble was that pulled Paul to the edge, but pulled to the edge he was. His burden was excessive. His pain was intense. His grief was almost overwhelming! Been there, done that - had no idea Paul had gone before me.
I find some solace in the fact that I'm not some weirdo mental case for landing in the slough of despond (no comments from the peanut gallery please). I find some peace in knowing that Paul is my companion in the darkness. However, more than empathetic comradary Paul gives us divinely purposeful hope. As he continues ministering to us in these verses he grants us a glimpse at what God is doing in the midst of this almost overwhelming gloom. God was teaching Paul to trust!!

Paul was brought to the end of himself that he should no longer trust in himself but in God. "Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves IN ORDER that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." Matthew Henry writes: "God often brings his people into great straits that they may be induced to place their trust and hope in His all-sufficiency. Our extremity is God's opportunity."

Ouch! Bulls eye!! Direct Hit!! Raising the white flag of surrender!! Oh, God - You have brought me to the place of despair please bring me to the place of trust!

Far too often I am proud and self-confident and self-reliant and self-sufficient and self-stubborn. Cutting to the chase I guess you could say I'm self-stupid! I like to be in control. I like to be "safe"! I like to be strong. I like to be those things, but I'm not and God has a way of continually showing me that I'm not. I'd be wise to listen - I must have a lot of sin's wax in my ears!

As I continually seek to hold the reins of my life God continues to direct my life in courses that look and feel a lot like spooked horses running wild over rocky terrain! Have you ever tried to hold the reins of a spooked horse?! Have you ever tried to hold the reins of a horse spooked by the sovereign God of the universe? Cry uncle, fool!! You will not win!! You are not strong enough and you're bound to break your neck if you keep fighting against so strong a force!

Time and time again, the stronger I strive to be the weaker He wisely makes me. That has been the path of this past year. The all-wise and loving God has "burdened me excessively, beyond my own strength, so that I have despaired of life." Repeatedly God has humbled me to see just how weak I am IN ORDER that "I should not trust in myself, but in God who raises the dead." I think I'm slowly getting it. Glad He is patient.

Paul, in theses verses, has driven home that despair is a catalyst for trust! Are we trusting or are we fighting against the horses of omnipotence? Friends, we are not strong enough to win the fight! Only God "who raises the dead" can "deliver us from so great a peril of death." Only "the Father of our Lord Jesus", only the "Father of mercies", only "the God of all comfort" can set us free from the shackles of despair and grant us peace and rest.

He can and He will!! "And He WILL deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope. He WILL yet deliver us!"

May our Great Deliverer - Who raised Christ from the dead - do what is necessary to pry our stubborn, stupid fingers off the reins of our lives. Our strength will fail us. Our attempts will wear us out. Our own volition will lead us where Paul landed in Asia - excessively burdened beyond our strength and despairing of life. Oh Father - do what is necessary, bring what is necessary, afflict as is necessary to teach us to trust You and to make us truly live!!

In His glorious grace,

Friday, March 5, 2010

Comforting Others as He Has Comforted Us - 2 Corinthians 1

"Blessed be the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies
and God of all comfort;who comforts us
in all our affliction so that we may be able
to comfort thosewho are in any affliction
with the comfort with which we ourselves
are comforted by God.
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours
in abundance, so also our comfort is
abundant through Christ."
(2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Have you ever had one of those moments when you have poured your heart out to someone regarding your suffering only to have them respond with a head nod that clearly signifies that they haven't a clue where you're coming from? They just don't get it. They don't understand. Clearly you are not on the same page and try as they might they just can't get on the same page.

Here's another scenario. Have you ever found yourself in a conversation about your afflictions with someone who HAS been there? Perhaps your trials have not been identical but you have both faced trials. Suddenly you find yourself with someone who can empathize and if that empathy is coupled with hope - hope in the Sovereign Christ who has wisely sent the storm for good purposes - then you have found a friend who can truly comfort you.

That second scenario is exactly what Paul is speaking of here in 2 Corinthians 1. Trials come and they come with purpose. They come that we might know and taste the mercy and comfort of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Without a scraped knee we would never know the tenderness of a healing kiss, a secure hug, a safe lap, or a reassuring look. God comforts us when we ache. God is as strong as an omnipotent Father but He is also as tender and gracious and loving and kind as a faithful mother!

He "comforts us in all of our afflictions SO THAT we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Please note the "so that" found in the middle of verse 4. We are not comforted solely for ourselves. Life does not revolove around us - as much as we might wish that it did. Things are not ulitmately about us but about Him and His kingdom and His glory. Here in 2 Corinthians 1 we see that the God who loves us so dearly comforts us SO THAT we can return the favor, share the blessing, and give as we have been given.

My friends - those of you who have tasted of sorrow and affliction, those of you who may be drinking of it even now - are you hoarding the comforts of Christ that have been given to you or are you looking for ways to help, encourage, and strengthen others?

"The sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." In this world, sorrow and sadness, peril and pain, afflictions and anxiety abound - but His grace and mercy and peace and comfort over abound.

Let the comfort of Christ overflow from the cup of suffering and share the cup of His merciful refreshment with others. Your suffering is with purpose. Your comfort is with purpose. Purpose to comfort as you have been comforted.

In His glorious grace,

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Detouring to Thoughts of Comfort - 2 Cor 1

{OK - so I've actually been finished in my personal studies through the gospel of John for several months. Time has not allowed me to cut and paste any of my meditative notes from my journal to the blog. I'll get back to that eventually - maybe. In the meantime, however, I have most recently been pouring over the pages of 2 Corinthians and have been moved by so many of Paul's words. I want to take a short detour from John's gospel to Paul's epistle and pray that you will be encouraged as I have been. God's Word is glorious!}

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort;
who comforts us in all our affliction..."
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4a)

2 Corinthians just sort of landed in my lap. My normal m.o. is to study through a book, then study 10 Psalms, then head to another book. Normally I have planned out my course well in advance - this time I finished Psalm 110 and realized "Whoa, where am I heading next?"

I did what I NEVER do - I flipped my Bible open and landed in 2 Corinthians.

Staring at its pages, I thought: "Well, I haven't done an indepth study there in several years. So, why not?!" Boy, am I glad I did. Paul's words - inspired by the Holy Spirit - have been a providential proclamation to my storm tossed soul. They have been exactly what I have needed precisely when I have needed them.

Chapter 1 fell out to me on a morning that I needed to be reminded of God's mercy, comfort and purpose in our afflictions. I have never skirted around the fact that 2009 was a trying year for me. 2010 finds me being pulled out of a deep period of testing by the mercies of a God who has repeatedly proven His character to a very, very weak daughter. That is what 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is all about.

After the salutation of grace and peace, which Paul is famous for, he flows straight into praise - which he is also famous for - and which we should pray to be enabled to emulate! His words: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort."

God is worthy of our praise - primarily because He is God! Enough said! It could end there! That sums up the bottom line of why we should bless His name. But, Paul doesn't leave us there with just an honest declaration - he makes it practical. He gives us deeply encouraging and incredibly tangible reasons for praise.

Yes, God is God - but see from these verses just what kind of God He is. Our God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this Father of Christ whom we are to praise. It is God the Father who has loved us enough to send Jesus the Son as our Savior. This whole salvific affair was His idea. It was His doing and His orchestrating that sent Christ to save us. Is that not worthy of our deepest praise? Resounding YES!!

Secondly (as if we needed something more), this God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus is also the Father of ALL mercies! If you have received mercy it has come from God. If you need mercy God is the fount from which it must flow. And you do need mercy, as do I. We don't comprehend nearly enough just how much we need mercy! It is not "fair" that we need - or we will all find ourselves condemned to hell by a just and holy God - it is mercy that we so desperately need - marvelous mercy. Mercy to free us from our sin. Mercy to free us from our sorrow. Mercy is what we most need and mercy is what He graciously gives. He is worthy of my praise for He, the Father of Jesus, is the Father of all mercies.

Thirdly, this God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus and the Father of all mercies is also the God of all comfort. It is in God alone that I can find true rest from my arduous labors, true peace from the raging war, and true consolation from those things which so terribly weigh me down. God alone can truly bind up the wounds of my soul. God alone can fully understand what I am facing and therefore can provide for me exactly what I need. He is worthy of my praise for He is the God of ALL comfort.

Oh, friend are you disconsolate? There is a Comforter. Are you overwhelmed by guilt and plagued with despair over your sins? There is a Father of Mercies. Are you in need of help that you are incapable of providing for yourself? There is a Savior - the Lord Jesus Christ - sent by this very Father, God.

All true comforts, all true mercies, all true salvation comes from Him. Bless His name weary one it is He who mercifully comforts you in your afflictions.

Finding mercy and comfort in my Heavenly Father,