Mornings at the Mission: An Eternal Weight of Glory

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again. 

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Every word of Sacred Scripture is inspired of God, protected from error, and preserved for us down through the centuries by His Holy Spirit. We forget sometimes, though, that while the Bible is in a very real sense God’s word, it was written down for us by real people. One of these people was the apostle Paul.

Paul was no stranger to suffering; converted on the road to Damascus, he went from being a zealous persecutor of the church to a zealous preacher of the gospel (Acts 9:1-22). For the rest of his life, Paul would endure much persecution and hardship. He would be beaten, starved, whipped, chained, shipwrecked, frozen, and imprisoned, all before finally being put to death in Rome by the emperor, Nero (2 Corinthians 11:16-33).

Paul reflects on some of what he faced in his second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter four he writes these words:

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair [… for] he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:8, 14-17).

It’s amazing to me, in view of everything Paul faced, that he remained steadfast in faith and refused to give into despair. How is this that? Here are a few of my thoughts based on Paul’s words:

1. Paul kept his eyes fixed on the resurrection. Because the Father kept His promise to Jesus and brought Him back from the dead, we too can be confident that He will keep His promise to us; Death is not the end. One day Christ will return to set all things right and there will be no more suffering, sorrow, or pain… this was a great source of hope for Paul.

2. Paul gladly bore his afflictions for the sake of others. You and I may not be shepherds of a flock like Paul was, but that does mean the things we face don’t have value. Think about how your story could be a source of hope and comfort to someone else in the years ahead.

3. Paul saw his trials a means to grow in grace. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God against sinners by dying in our place, those who trust in Him alone for salvation are made into new creations. Unfortunately, we still struggle with our old depraved nature; the Bible calls this the “flesh”, or the “old man.” That’s why even after we’re saved we still struggle to do what we know is right. According to Paul, though, when we cling to God in the midst of suffering, it slowly kills off the old man, and helps the new creation in us flourish.

4. It’s important for us to realize that none of this was accomplished in Paul’s own strength. At the end of the day, it was grace alone that kept his eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of everything (1 Corinthians 15:10). Rest in that grace; let it carry you.

Finally, In light of Paul’s words, my encouragement to you today is not to give in to despair. Your suffering is not meaningless; thought it may be hard to see now, it is storing up for you an eternal weight of glory that will make everything you and I face in this world seem like but a breath.

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Mornings At the Mission: Suffering Well

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again. 

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For a small moment have I forsaken thee;
but with great mercies will I gather thee. […]
10 For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed;
but my kindness shall not depart from thee,
neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed,
saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.

(Isaiah 54:7, 10)

A good Father disciplines his children. He does so out of love, with great tenderness. It grieves his heart to see his children sad–he does not want to cause them grief–and yet for their own good and often for their own safety, he must set them on the right path.

So it is with our relationship with God, and one of the ways he disciplines us is through the trials we face (James 1:2-4). Through them, God is making us new, conforming us to the image of His son. For those who stand as enemies of God, suffering is at once an act of judgement and of grace, meant to demonstrate the magnitude of God’s anger against sin. But for those who love God, suffering becomes something entirely different.

For the sake of those called of God, all of the Father’s wrath against sin has been absorbed by Christ at the cross. Now, because of Him, affliction comes to us not as judgement, but as a gift, meant to refine us, and deepen our intimacy with, and dependence upon the Lord. Speaking through the prophet Zechariah God says, “I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God” (Zechariah 13:9).

So there are two questions for us to ask today: First, to the person who still stands at enmity with God. We’ve all to some extent or another stood where you stand, thinking “surely I deserve better than this!” But the fact is that all of us are guilty of treason before God, deserving of the death penalty… eternal death. If you’re still breathing, that’s because God is showing you mercy, allowing time for grace to work in your life, drawing you to repentance. In the words of the apostle Paul, “as though God did beseech you by [me]: [I] pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Second, to the Christian: When we experience affliction–no matter how great, or how small–we have two choices; We can either use the pain as an excuse to run from God, or we can embrace it as a friend, and suffer well. Perhaps it would help to think of yourself as a piece of iron in a forge. God is the blacksmith, hammering you into shape, and the troubles you face are the white-hot coals that make you malleable in the craftsman’s hands.

Choose well, friends, and I pray one day you will find yourself echoing the words of King David; “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

Joy from the Valley

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The Valley of Vision is a breathtaking collection of Puritan prayers and devotions that stirs my soul like nothing else outside of Scripture. The other day while thumbing through my copy, I stumbled across this delightful prayer:

O CHRIST,

All thy ways of mercy tend to and end in my delight.
Thou didst weep, sorrow, suffer that I might rejoice.
For my joy thou hast sent the Comforter,
multiplied thy promises,
shown me my future happiness,
given me a living fountain.

Thou art preparing joy for me and me for joy;
I pray for joy, wait for joy, long for joy;
give me more than I can hold, desire, or think of.
Measure out to me my times and degrees of joy,
at my work, business, duties.
If I weep at night, give me joy in the morning.
Let me rest in the thought of thy love,
pardon for sin, my title to heaven,
my future unspotted state.

I am an unworthy recipient of thy grace.
I often disesteem thy blood and slight thy love,
but can in repentance draw water
from the wells of thy joyous forgiveness.
Let my heart leap towards the eternal sabbath,
where the work of redemption, sanctification,
preservation, glorification is finished
and perfected for ever,
where thou wilt rejoice over me with joy.

There is no joy like the joy of heaven,
for in that state are no sad divisions,
unchristian quarrels,
contentions, evil designs,
weariness, hunger, cold,
sadness, sin, suffering,
persecutions, toils of duty.

O healthful place where none are sick!
O happy land where all are kings!
O holy assembly where all are priests!
How free a state where none are servants
except to thee!
Bring me speedily to the land of joy.

This little book is an absolute delight to use. Take the time to ready slowly, letting the rich, God-entranced, Scripture-saturated words of the writers be a rich feast for your soul.

When you’re ready for seconds, make sure you head on over to Banner of Truth Trust and pick up a copy.

Mornings at the Mission: Colossians 1:15-22

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again. 

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15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:16 for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: […] 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22 in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.

God is Holy. When I say He is holy I not only mean that He is morally pure, I mean that He is completely “other.” Whenever we enter into discussions about God we end up saying with Job “Surely I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). In fact, the only way we can possibly know anything about God is if He reveals Himself to us. One of the beautiful things about the Christian faith is that we understand God has revealed Himself to us. He’s made Himself know through the Scriptures, and if that weren’t enough, He came down and walked among us. Think about that for a minute: The One who created everything, who sustains everything, to whom we owe our very existence, is not distant, disengaged or uncaring, but came down into our midst and lived a human life. He ate, drank, mourned, laughed, “was tempted in every way as we are yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Because of Jesus, because He lived, suffered, died, and rose, all who believe have the privilege of truly knowing God. No longer are we separated from Him through the enmity of sin, no longer are we alienated from His presence, no longer do we tremble in fear of His wrath, for through the blood of His cross Jesus has granted us true peace! And here’s the beautiful thing: we don’t deserve it, we can’t deserve it, and we never will. All of us are broken, depraved, sinners, none of us is good enough to stand before God and no amount of hard work, morality, or cleaning up our act will change that. As Isaiah says, even our righteousness is as dirt rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Stop striving, stop trying to earn God’s favor… it’s an offense to Him. Christ’s death was more than sufficient to make you right with God and there is nothing you can do to add or take away from that; the work is done.

So rest, rest in the finished work of Christ, rest in the favor of God bestowed upon you who have trusted in Christ alone as your only hope in life and death. Rest and be content with Him as your glory, Him as your treasure, Him as your joy.

Mornings at the Mission: Isaiah 6:1-7

Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again. 

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In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

And one cried unto another, and said,

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.

And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.

Today we meditated on Isaiah 6:1-7 and made two points: First, God is holy and cannot be in the presence of sin (Isaiah 59:2). Even Isaiah, the most righteous man in Israel at the time stood unclean before Yahweh… “Woe is me!” he cried. His guilt needed atoned for, just like ours. His cleansing came through a hot coal, ours came through the death of Jesus Christ that effectually accomplished salvation for all who would believe (Ephesians 1:3-7).

Second, even in the midst of chaos, God remains on his throne. Isaiah entered the temple at a time when all Israel was quaking in fear. Now that the good king Uzziah had died (2 Chronicles 26:16-23), they were afraid the judgment of God would come upon them through Assyria (which it would, see Isaiah 7:17-25). In the midst of this, Isaiah beholds Jesus seated on His throne (John 12:37-41), still reigning, still glorious, still in control. Just like Isaiah, we can be confident in a reigning Savior who is both good and powerful. Not only has he promised to bring good from ill (Romans 8:28), but he is able to do it (Psalm 33:8-9,  115:3, Daniel 4:35).

 

Reflections on a Bittersweet Memory

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A year ago I answered a call to be an interim pastor at a small Presbyterian church on Western Avenue. Our time there was short, and in many ways trying… we were newlyweds, I had just graduated and was working full-time in addition to leading a youth ministry at another church. Needless to say, Ashley and I were stretched thin beyond belief. And yet, I look back at those days as some of the best in my life. I can’t imagine a higher privilege than to preach the word week in and week out, shepherding folk as they deal with loss and brokenness in all its forms, praying with and for each member of the community, leading liturgy, song, and sacrament. I miss it with all my heart, especially the quiet moments with my bride before the service… putting the finishing touches on the liturgy, praying together… her praying over me and asking God to speak. In many ways this experience would change our lives, and for the better; We forged a beautiful friendship with a seasoned minister (and his family) who took us under his wing and still prays for us daily (we now have the joy of calling him our pastor), we saw God strengthen our marriage, deepen our faith, and refine our doctrine, setting a foundation for the days to come… Even if I never take the pulpit again, I will always cherish those days, difficult as they were.