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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Proverb worth Memorizing: 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs13:12).

How do you know what to do next? How to respond? Whether or not this seemingly good thing headed your way is from God or from the Evil One? Is this God speaking or my heart -- what I want -- deceiving me (Jer. 17:9)? There is no substitute for memorizing verses in Scripture to know to respond to what life throws at you, to discern if a good thing is also a God thing, and to know if God is speaking to you or trying to get your attention (after all, He's given us His written Word - won't his spoken, mysterious, by-the-Spirit words look remarkably similar if not identical to pages you can leaf through everyday?). To be honest, some verses I've memorized come to mind in real-life situations more often than others - one of these is Proverbs 13:12. I'd like to share with you why might also find it helpful to memorize and even pass along to others.

Hope. Andy Dufresne to his friend Red: "Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing every dies" (from the 1994 classic film The Shawshank Redemption). When circumstances are not what we would want or we are yet who we wish to be, Hope is required. Yet, hope in-and-of-itself is an intangible verb that needs a direct object. In other words, nobody just hopes. You must hope in some thing or for some thing - as Andy said: "No good thing ever dies." And since Hope isn't something you currently have but are looking to access, the best object of hope is the guaranteed object hope. We have supreme and absolute confidence that the person will save us a seat or be there to celebrate with us, unwavering confidence that an annual or weekly event/happening will be all that it says it will be providing us the boost we need, total faith that whatever I am purchasing online - upon arrival, will improve my quality of life. Because Hope is so vital to life and such a powerful instrument in helping us keep-on-keeping-on, Scripture warns us about even putting all the eggs in the basket of your hope into anything in this life. God describes our years as are like an exhaling "sigh" (Psalm 90:9), like the passing smoke of a distant bonfire (Psalm 102:3), like the time it takes for a person to put on a new pair of clothes (Psalm 102:26). C.S. Lewis said it so well: Do not let you happiness depend on something you might lose.  

Deferred makes the heart sick. One of the reasons I so appreciate this verse in real-life is the many times my hope doesn't so much do a 180-degree-turn (ie. as if all of a sudden I'm living solely for money, indulging in an adulterous affair or in pornography, habitually lying and manipulating to get my way, etc.) but, rather, gets just slightly deferred. To defer is to "postpone slightly" or "put slightly off." Let me give you two examples of "slightly off" hope - Spiritual Gifts & Friendship/Marriage. 

>>> Spiritual gifts are given to us upon trusting our lives to Jesus because the Holy Spirit has pitched a tent and taken up residence inside of you. One of the radically gracious benny's of fellowship with the Holy Spirit is He gives you unique empowerments or skills by which you might bless others in the church. It's amazing! However, what if one day that gift doesn't seem to be having an impact in someone's life or you are no longer enjoying using it, or it seems to run dry? You will feel this is the case at some point in your walk even if you haven't yet identify the ways you enjoy blessing people as "gifts" per say. You may get sad, melancholy, even depressed - you may get hardened toward God or toward church leadership ("it's the church's fault I can't use my gift") - or you might even try to denigrate the gifts and progress of others through a sarcastic remark or putdown. These are all signs that you're hope has been slightly deferred and, thus, your heart is sick. The apostle Paul reminds us about gifts that they are will not last forever: "Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for [gift of] knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will pass away" (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). We can and should hope in the Christ who is glorified through the use of our gifts.  

>>> Human friendship/marriage. God made us to love friendships and live in community. But to what extent is even the most intimate friendship - the marriage relationship - eternal? Jesus even hints that marriage is something for "the sons of this age" (see Luke 20:34-36). Indeed, marriage is primarily a picture in this life of Jesus' eternal relationship with His church (Ephesians 5:32). You know the feeling of looking so forward to a weekend with your mates, a special luncheon with a friend whom you always pick up where you left off, or the prospects of what looks like a great new season for your marriage. Yet, though a gift from God and even if you or they are the best of people, continually putting hope in human relationships will disappoint. One of my favorite Singers/Songwriters, Rich Mullins, put it like this: "I think one of the stresses on a lot of friendships is that we require that the people we love take away our lonliness. And they really can't. And so, when we still feel lonely, even in the company of the people we love, we become angry with them because they don't do what we think they're supposed to do...So while you still have life, love everybody you can love. Love them as much as you can love them. Don't try to keep them for yourself. Because when you're gone, they'll just resent you for having left."

>> How this Proverb helps in real-life moments. (1) As a warning. When I find myself starting to look forward to or hoping in the person, experience, object itself, the Holy Spirit reminds me of Prov. 13:12: Look forward to seeing Jesus, experiencing Jesus, becoming more like Jesus, and passing on Jesus to others in the near future encounter with the person, experience, object. OR if I find my mind wandering toward or thinking toward something too much, again: Prov 13:12. Remember: It would be easy to miss. This displaced hope is a deferral not a 180-degree lifestyle turn (though left unchecked you 180-degrees will be the end result). (2) As a diagnosis. When I wonder why I'm feeling down, frustrated, hardened - have I deferred my hope to something that will pass away? ; (3) As a turning point toward getting my longings fulfilled....

But a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. The basis and object of our hope is the Risen
Lesser-known Alternate Ending: Andy's Letter Reads:
"Red, if you are reading this, I've died of dysentery
on the way to Mexico. Read Proverbs 13:12."
Christ. His present promises of nearness (Matthew 28:20), forgiveness (1 John 1:9), His intercession in prayer (Hebrews 7:25), that we can rest from doing work to justifying ourselves and, instead, to do good work to glorify him as we do it with Him (Matthew 11:28-30), that He is working even this hard situation for incredible good (Rom 8:28) and His future promises often called "future grace" - new glorified body (1 Cor. 15:51-57), no more sadness (Revelation 21:4), right all the wrong in this current age (Revelation 11:17), in His tender and awesome presence forever (Revelation 7:15-17)

The Bible begins and ends with a Tree of Life (Genesis 2:9, Revelation 22:2, Revelation 22:19). So it's fitting to end a mediation on hope with the following passage from the prophet Jeremiah who speaks here of Living Water: 
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
Root your hope in Him who gives Living Water. I believe God will use your memorizing Proverbs 13:12 to help keep those roots headed in the right and most fulfilling direction.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Free Audiobook for October: A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (guest blogger: Pastor B)

My good pal turned partner-in-ministry, Pastor Brett, is a guest blogger for me today. He recently finished reading a larger biography of Jonathan Edwards so I thought you might fancy his introducing a shorter (and FREE!) biography of Jonathan Edwards...
A guest post by Pastor Brett...

I was recently telling somebody that if I could start university over again, instead of studying engineering, I would be strongly tempted to study history.  I love learning how seemingly small people and events can massively shape the direction of nations and future generations (in part because this encourages me that God can use my small acts of obedience to do things I can’t predict and may never know). 

Jonathan Edwards is an underrated titan of British and American history, well-known during his own lifetime but often overlooked today in part because he died tragically several years before the American Revolution (which – let’s be honest – is the point at which most Americans start caring about our own history).  He was a prolific writer, faithful pastor, courageous missionary, and tender family man (together with his wife Sarah he raised 11 children!), and more than 250 years after his death he is still widely regarded as the most important Christian thinker born in America, as well as one of its greatest geniuses. 

George Marsden, an Edwards expert, has written an excellent little introductory biography (less than 200 pages) called A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, and this month you can get it for free here, courtesy of  Allow me to suggest just a few reasons it’s worth your time to get acquainted with Jonathan Edwards:

Edwards was dazzled by God – The man’s life was built around the glory of God.  In his preaching, in his writing, in his evangelism, he was always trying to help others see what he saw when he read his Bible and looked at the world: a beautiful God full of love and joy, who created the universe and humanity to spread his love and joy to others, and who is constantly beckoning us to turn from sin and idols, receive his mercy through Jesus, and spend eternity (starting now!) praising and enjoying his majesty.  Edwards helps us see the invisible beauties of God and the world as it really is.

Edwards was a wrestler – Not the kind of wrestler who wears a singlet; that would never have gone with his powdered wig.  No, Edwards wrestled with the difficult questions of life and wasn’t content with pat answers.  He wanted to hear from God: How can I be sure I’m a Christian?  How can I know whether the Holy Spirit is really at work in someone’ life?  How can a good God plan a world with such suffering and evil?  How can God be all-powerful and still hold me responsible for what I do?  We can learn from Edwards’ answers, and we can learn from his all-out pursuit of understanding God’s ways.

Edwards knew how to suffer – Though he experienced significant success in his life (hundreds trusting Christ through his preaching, best-selling books, wide influence leading to his appointment as president of Princeton University), he also endured plentiful difficulties – a bitter and painful dismissal from his church after more than 20 years of ministry, the death of a teenage daughter, regular physical danger from hostile Native American tribes, and his own slow death of complications from a smallpox inoculation.  Through it all, Edwards found that he could trust totally in a wise, good, and sovereign God.  Our lives would be so changed if we learned to trust the way Edwards did!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

R.I.P. Chuck Smith (June 25, 1927 - October 2, 2013)

Chuck Smith is best known as the first pastor and founder of Calvary Chapel. 
He died today after a long battle with lung cancer. My best summary of Smith: He had a simple but oh so zealous desire to take the love of God expressed in the Scriptures and communicate that across cultural lines to many whom church had given up on (starting with, yes, "those darn hippies...").

I would encourage any who would read this blog to check out Ed Stetzer's explanation in Christianity Today of Chuck Smith's impact upon evangelicalism and his reach through the Calvary Chapel movement. Those five bullet points alone are representative of who we are and who we hope to become as a church (SCC).

Chuck Smith had significant, if largely indirect, influence on mine and my parents trust and growth in Christ. I was living in Southern California in the mid/late 1990s when I trusted my life to Jesus - my parents zeal for Christ having already been born and was growing there. So many lay ministers and pastors we encountered, including my family's senior pastor, were greatly influenced by Chuck Smith. One of the churches I visited soon after trusting Christ was the one Chuck Smith founded - Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. I hung around there a good bit and remember this being a critical time for me. After trusting Christ, God attracted me to His Word and was compelling me to write outlines, as a high schooler, of books of the New Testament. I didn't know any better! Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (and Chuck Smith's ministry) was the first place I recall receiving any kind of support and confirmation for such a systematic approach and verse-by-verse zeal for the Word of God.

Chuck Smith, may he rest in Peace with Him who is his Peace (Ephesians 2:14).