“Fear Not”

God tells us “Fear not.” This is the most common commandment in the entire Bible, appearing roughly 150 times, because this is the most common problem for the Christian. Who are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? That fear will paralyze you. It will cause you not to live courageously and boldly. Jesus knows that there are reasons for you to be afraid. And yet he says, “Fear not.”

Nearly every time the Bible commands us to “fear not”, it also tells us why. Not because we will see things turn around soon, or even ever. Not because it’s going to be easy. And not because we will be vindicated in this life. Instead, when we are told, “Fear not,” in some fashion God is telling us, “I am with you.” Jesus, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, lives in us, works through us, goes with us, and will never leave us or forsake us, because he promised to be with us always, until the end of the age, as we limp toward home.

The Jesus who goes with you is a God who has experienced tribulation, poverty, slander, suffering, and death. He is always present to comfort you because he has walked the road that you are on and is waiting with nail-scarred hands to embrace you at its end. Since he has walked that road for you, his invitation to walk it with him is a great honor.

-Mark Driscoll, A Call to Resurgence

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Is God Committed to Your Happiness?

Is God committed to your happiness? Absolutely, and yet if you come to him to make you happy, you’re coming to a false god. If you say, ‘Well, I’m interested in this Christianity, and maybe I’ll come and bite on it if I can see it will help me reach my goals and make me happy.’ You’re not coming to God; you’re coming to a butler. Either God exists or he doesn’t exist. If he doesn’t exist you can’t come to him for happiness, right? But if he does exist, you have to realize you must come to him because he created you, and therefore, he owns you.

To not come to him and obey him would be an injustice. The only way to come to God rightly, the real God, is to come without conditions and to say, ‘Forget happiness. I owe you everything.’ There are only two ways to come to God. You can come to God on the basis of saying, ‘I owe you everything; you owe me nothing,’ or you can come on the basis of saying, ‘I’m going to come to you, but then you owe me a lot.’ The only way for you to know on what basis you have come is to see what happens in the bad seasons.

When things go wrong, do you get upset and say, ‘What good did it do me to come to church? What good did it do me to read the Bible?’ Do you know what that shows? You came to him on the basis of saying, ‘I will do this and this, as you owe me.’ In other words you’re saying, ‘My number one priority is happiness, and I’m using God as a way to get there’ as opposed to saying, ‘My number one priority is to serve God, and if happiness happens, great. To the degree it happens, great.’

Here is the irony: the less you’re concerned about your happiness and the more you’re concerned about him, the happier you get. This is not a trick. You can’t say, ‘Oh, great. I have it. I come to God, and I say this and this and this.’ You cannot bandy with the omnipotent and omniscient Lord of the universe. ‘Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.’ Happiness is a byproduct.

~Tim Keller

Our Deepest Fear

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”)

Oh, to Know Jesus!

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).

One thing is for sure: Christianity is not for stoics. The Bible is the most wild, romantic book ever written. The New Testament is no cool, reasoned analysis of Jesus’s system of thought. It is a passionate book written by people who were ravished by Jesus, who felt and said ardent things like Philippians 3:8.

You know what the world calls statements like Paul’s? Religious extremism. Fanaticism. You “count everything as loss”? Sounds dangerous. Have you thought about seeing a therapist?

But the world is full of such talk when it comes to romantic love. We expect lovers’ language to be obsessive and imbalanced. Listen to the way the poet John Keats speaks to his beloved Fanny Brawne:

You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more — the pain would be too great — My Love is selfish — I cannot breathe without you.

Keats’s overwhelming passion gave him a profound insight (in the same letter):

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion — I have shuddered at it — I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion.
 Love is my religion and I could die for that. I could die for you.

Paul is no fundamentalist extremist driven by fear or anger to force his creed on others. He’s a man in love. Keats idolized Fanny. Paul worshiped his Lord.

Christians are people in love with Jesus. He’s not our worldview; he’s our Bridegroom. We pour over the Word and pray to commune with our Beloved. Theology is only worth studying to help us know him! Preaching, teaching and evangelism is not our vocation or obligation but a longing that others know him too. “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Here’s a passionate prayer written within Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ that I find relevant.

Eternal Father… we must thank you because you have made us taste and see the glory of Jesus Christ, your Son. Oh, to know him! Father, we long to know him. Banish from our minds low thoughts of Christ. Saturate our souls with the Spirit of Christ and all his greatness. Enlarge our capacities to be satisfied in all that you are for us in him. Where flesh and blood are impotent, reveal to us the Christ, and rivet our attention and our affections on the truth and beauty of your all-glorious Son.

Amen! Oh, to know Jesus so well and love him so much that we count all else as loss in comparison!

This post is adapted from Jon Bloom’s post on Desiring God’s blog here: http://ow.ly/dztdW

I Will in No Wise Cast Out

“Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”—John 6:37.

No limit is set to the duration of this promise. It does not merely say, “I will not cast out a sinner at his first coming,” but, “I will in no wise cast out.” The original reads, “I will not, not cast out,” or “I will never, never cast out.” The text means, that Christ will not at first reject a believer; and that as He will not do it at first, so He will not to the last.

But suppose the believer sins after coming? “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

But suppose that believers backslide? “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him.”

But believers may fall under temptation! “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

But the believer may fall into sin as David did! Yes, but He will “Purge them with hyssop, and they shall be clean; He will wash them and they shall be whiter than snow”; “From all their iniquities will I cleanse them.”

“Once in Christ, in Christ for ever,
Nothing from His love can sever.”
“I give unto My sheep,” says He, “eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” What say you to this, O trembling feeble mind? Is not this a precious mercy, that coming to Christ, you do not come to One who will treat you well for a little while, and then send you about your business, but He will receive you and make you His bride, and you shalt be His for ever? Receive no longer the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption whereby you shall cry, Abba, Father! Oh! the grace of these words: “I will in no wise cast out.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (from Morning and Evening, a daily devotional; formatting mine; also some minor language updating)

7 Marks of a Right Heart Before God

1) A right heart is a NEW heart (Ezek. 36:26). It is not the heart with which a person is born—but another heart put in them by the Holy Spirit. It is a heart which has new tastes, new joys, new sorrows, new desires, new hopes, new fears, new likes, new dislikes. It has new views about the soul, sin, God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, prayer, heaven, hell, the world, and holiness. It is like a farm with a new and good tenant. “Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

2) A right heart is a BROKEN and CONTRITE heart (Psalm 51:17). It is broken off from pride, self-conceit, and self-righteousness. Its former high thoughts of self are cracked, shattered, and shivered to atoms. It thinks itself guilty, unworthy, and corrupt. Its former stubbornness, heaviness, and insensibility have thawed, disappeared, and passed away. It no longer thinks lightly of offending God. It is tender, sensitive, and jealously fearful of running into sin (2 Kings 22:19). It is humble, lowly, and self-abased, and sees in itself no good thing.

3) A right heart is a heart which BELIEVES on Christ alone for salvation, and in which Christ dwells by faith (Rom. 10:10Eph. 3:17). It rests all its hopes of pardon and eternal life on Christ’s atonement, Christ’s mediation, and Christ’s intercession. It is sprinkled in Christ’s blood from an evil conscience (Heb. 10:22). It turns to Christ as the compass-needle turns to the north. It looks to Christ for daily peace, mercy, and grace—as the sun-flower looks to the sun. It feeds on Christ for its daily sustenance, as Israel fed on the manna in the wilderness. It sees in Christ a special fitness to supply all its needs and requirements. It leans on Him, hangs on Him, builds on Him, cleaves to Him, as its physician, guardian, husband, and friend.

4) A right heart is a PURIFIED heart (Acts 15:9Matt. 5:8). It loves holiness, and hates sin. It strives daily to cleanse itself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). It abhors that which is evil, and cleaves to that which is good. It delights in the law of God, and has that law engraved on it, that it may not forget it (Psalm 119:11). It longs to keep the law more perfectly, and takes pleasure in those who love the law. It loves God and people. Its affections are set on things above. It never feels so light and happy as when it is most holy; and it looks forward to heaven with joy, as the place where perfect holiness will at length be attained.

5) A right heart is a PRAYING heart. It has within it “the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba Father” (Rom. 8:15). Its daily feeling is, “Your face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8). It is drawn by an habitual inclination to speak to God about spiritual things—weakly, feebly, and imperfectly perhaps—but speak it must. It finds it necessary to pour out itself before God, as before a friend, and to spread before Him all its needs and desires. It tells Him all its secrets. It keeps back nothing from Him. You might as well try to persuade a person to live without breathing, as to persuade the possessor of a right heart to live without praying.

6) A right heart is a heart that feels CONFLICT within it (Gal. 5:17). It finds within itself two opposing principles contending for the mastery—the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. It knows by experience what Paul means when he says, “I see a law in my members warring against the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:23). The wrong heart knows nothing of this strife. The strong man armed keeps the wrong heart as their palace, and their goods are at peace (Luke 11:21). But when the rightful King takes possession of the heart, a struggle begins which never ends until death. The right heart may be known by its warfare, quite as much as by its peace.

7) A right heart is HONEST, UNDIVIDED, and TRUE (Luke 8:15;1 Chron. 12:33Heb. 10:22). There is nothing about it of falsehood, hypocrisy, or image-acting. It is not double or divided. It really is what it professes to be, feels what it professes to feel, and believes what it professes to believe. Its faith may be feeble. Its obedience may be very imperfect. But one thing will always distinguish the right heart. Its religion will be real, genuine, thorough, and sincere.

 ► Summary:

A heart such as that which I have now described, has always been the possession of all true Christians of every name, nation, people and tongue. They have differed from one another on many subjects—but they have all been of a right heart. Some of them have fallen, for a season, like David and Peter—but their hearts have never entirely departed from the Lord. They have often proved themselves to be men and women laden with infirmities—but their hearts have been right in the sight of God. They have understood one another on earth. They have found that their experience was everywhere one and the same. They will understand each other even better in the world to come. All that have had right hearts upon earth, will find that they have one heart when they enter heaven.
~ J.C. Ryle [Old Paths, “The Heart” (348-351)].

What The Psalms Do

If you read the Psalms only for doctrine, you’re not reading them for what they are. They are psalms, songs, poetry. They’re musical, and the reason human beings express truth with music and poetry is to awaken and express emotions that fit the truth.

One of the reasons the Psalms are deeply loved by so many Christians is that they give expression to an amazing array of emotions. Listen to this list of emotions I pulled together:

  1. Loneliness: “I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalms 25:16).
  2. Love: “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalms 18:1).
  3. Awe: “Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him” (Psalms 33:8).
  4. Sorrow: “My life is spent with sorrow” (Psalms 31:10).
  5. Regret: “I am sorry for my sin” (Psalms 38:18).
  6. Contrition: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalms 51:17).
  7. Discouragement and turmoil: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me” (Psalms 42:5)?
  8. Shame: “Shame has covered my face” (Psalms 44:15).
  9. Exultation: “In your salvation how greatly he exults” (Psalms 21:1).
  10. Marveling: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalms 118:23).
  11. Delight: “His delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalms 1:2).
  12. Joy: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Psalms 4:7).
  13. Gladness: “I will be glad and exult in you” (Psalms 9:2).
  14. Fear: “Serve the Lord with fear” (Psalms 2:11).
  15. Anger: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Psalms 4:4).
  16. Peace: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalms 4:8).
  17. Grief: “My eye wastes away because of grief” (Psalms 6:7).
  18. Desire: “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted” (Psalms 10:17).
  19. Hope: “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Psalms 33:22).
  20. Brokenheartedness: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18).
  21. Gratitude: “I will thank you in the great congregation” (Psalms 35:18).
  22. Zeal: “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (Psalms 69:9).
  23. Pain: “I am afflicted and in pain” (Psalms 69:29).
  24. Confidence: “Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident” (Psalms 27:3).

More explicitly than all the other books in the Bible, the Psalms are designed to awaken and shape our emotions in line with the instruction they give. What happens when you read and sing the Psalms the way they are intended to be read and sung is that your emotions and your mind are shaped by these psalms.

From Pastor John’s sermon, “Songs that Shape the Heart and Mind” (May 25, 2008)