Full of Leaks

22616740Under the conviction of your Spirit I learn that

the more I do, the worse I am,

the more I know, the less I know,

the more holiness I have, the more sinful I am,

the more I love, the more there is to love.

O wretched man that I am!

O Lord, I have a wild heart,

and I cannot stand before thee;

I am like a bird before a man.

How little I love thy truth and ways!

I neglect prayer, by thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly,

by knowing

that you have saved my soul.


Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be an evangelical leakyBuckethypocrite,

who sins more safely because grace abounds,

who tells his lusts that Christ’s blood cleanses them,

who reasons that God cannot cast him into hell,

for he is saved,

who loves evangelical preaching, churches, Christians, but lives unholy.

My mind is a bucket without a bottom,

with no spiritual understanding,

no desire for the Lord’s Day,

ever learning but never reaching the truth,

always at the gospel-well but never holding water.

am_porteuse_d_eauMy conscience is without conviction or contrition, with nothing to repent of.

My will is without power of decision or resolution.

My heart is without affection, and full of leaks.

My memory has no retention,

so I forget easily the lessons learned,

and they truths seep away.

   Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace. ((Arthur Bennett, The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Banner of Truth, p.128-9))


Sing to Him a New Song!

During the Christmas season, our congregation was blessed with many gifts of music. 20159955 One week stood out above all the others.  A young college student returned for vacation and offered to play his marimba while his friend joined him on flute. 

Since it was the Christmas season, these two extraordinary musicians did a medley of Christmas carols.  They were original compositions–arrangements that kept the basic melody but with embellishments and lilting lines that made you know you were in the presence of incredible musical gifting. 

I can remember listening and my heart wanted to jump out of my chest while my mind excitedly thought, “I may never again be allowed to hear anything this gloriously beautiful!”

Interestingly, my reaction was not shared by all who were listening.  22860490 Some were disturbed that anyone would “mess” with the traditional melody of “Away in the Manger”  or “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” 

Rather than being awed and grateful to be in the presence of such rare and precious gifts, some were angered and felt this “new” music was robbing God of the honor due His name. It sounded too “jazzy” and certainly not traditional.

Since that day I have been grieving over how we as the church have allowed ourselves to crawl into the deep trenches of “Worship Wars.”  We are deciding what we think God would like to hear and then climbing into camps lobbing verbal grenades at those who do not agree with us. We are willing to fight to the last breath with brothers and sisters with heels dug in–convinced that God only likes to hear what we like to hear.

Scripture seemed to speak to the war zone atmosphere as I began the day reading Psalm 33.  One verse jumped out as though it had been bold printed. The simplicity of the words seemed to clear the smoke of confusion and brought clarity.

“Sing to Him a new song;”

Is it possible that the Psalmist knows our inclination to fall in love with the sound of the “old” songs and to forget who we are singing to?

If I repeated the exact same words with the exact same tones to my husband day after day and year after year would he begin to doubt my sincere affection?

Could it be that the psalmist is encouraging the incorporation of the “new” as a protection for our hearts becoming cold and disengaged? 

Does he want our affection for God not to grow stale and mundane in expression?


Good people, cheer GOD!

Right-living people sound best when praising.

Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs!

Play His praise on a grand piano!

Invent your own new song to Him;

give Him a trumpet fanfare.”  

Psalm 33:1-3, The Message

Wonder what the psalmist thinks about clapping in worship?

Joseph’s Coat

Meanwhile Jacob had settled down where his father had lived, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of Jacob. The story continues with Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, helping out his brothers in herding the flocks. These were his half brothers actually, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought his father bad reports on them. 3-4 Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn’t even speak to him. Genesis 37, The Message

jacob_joseph_coat (Small) I have read the story of Joseph and his “technicolor dream coat” many times.  As I read it,  my mind has in view a snapshot of a fancy, multicolored striped tunic just like the ones I saw in the Sunday School pictures.

Recently while listening to a lecture by Dr. Doug Stuart, he pointed out that Genesis 37 is not telling the story of a little boy with a coat of many colors but is communicating that Jacob gave Joseph a long-sleeved coat. 

For the reader, that was to signal that an inheritance ceremony was going on in this family.  The long sleeved coat was normally given to the first born son symbolizing that he was the heir who would receive the double portion from the father. 

The Genesis story is highlighting how upside down Jacob’s affections were for Joseph.  As Jacob awards a younger son this great gift of inheritance, our hearts immediately resonate with the brothers who felt slighted and disowned by father Jacob.

Is there something else –something more hidden going on in this story?  Was the author’s intent not only to shock the hearer with the sense of unfairness but also with how undeserving was Joseph for such a generous gift.  

Running all through the Bible narrative, the Holy Spirit is weaving the tapestry of grace.  So too in this family history, the author is pulling a “grace thread’ through the fabric of jealousy, hatred, and undeserved favoritism.  The thread becomes clearer if we will stand in Joseph’s shoes rather than in the shoes of the offended brothers.  Tim Keller is masterful in getting at the “grace thread” of Genesis 37.  

“Suffering all by itself can ruin you, but suffering plus an absolute assurance of the love of God can turn you into something great, absolutely great.  Well some of us say, “That’s nice, except that’s not what happens is it?”  Because when bad things come in your life, you know what happens:

When suffering comes into your life, almost immediately you struggle with this, you say “Maybe I am not living right.  Maybe I am not doing right.” When suffering comes into your life, you have less assurance that God loves you. You feel like “God has abandoned me,” so how the heck is this going to work?  It doesn’t make sense.  

If George Herbert is right in saying, If I had joyous coat, if I had the coat of the Father on me, then suffering I can handle it.”  How do you get it? Here’s how you get it. The pattern of salvation in Joseph’s life was so weird to his brothers.  It’s so against the world’s thinking, but that is because it points to the ultimate pattern of salvation.  

You see, centuries later another one came to his brethren, “to his own and they received him not”.  Another one was sold for silver, and betrayed by the people closest to him.  It was another one who was stripped naked, and abandoned to die, and who cried out in the dark, “Why?” And nobody heard. Nobody came. That one was Jesus.

But here’s the difference: Joseph is being turned into a savior, the only way God’s salvation would have worked; Jesus was being turned into a savior through weakness in suffering and rejection. You see that?  Joseph can only save the community if he is first rejected by the community, he could never be their savior – though eventually he was – unless he was first lost, unless he was humbled, unless he was rejected, unless he was sold.

Joseph was being turned involuntarily into the savior for one human family.  But Jesus Christ came, and the pit he fell into was vastly deeper.  And the cry of his dereliction was vastly greater.  And his nakedness and his sense of abandonment was infinitely beyond anything that Joseph went through.  In other words, Jesus came voluntarily to be the savior of us all.

jesus_crucifixion_empty_cross Because when Jesus was on the cross, He wasn’t just physically naked.  He was stripped of His Father’s love.  Do you know why? He was being punished for our sin.  

When suffering hits you, you will always get back in touch with the subliminal deep profound sense – that every human being has – and that is “I really deserve some punishment for the way in which I’ve lived”.  No human being can get rid of that. I don’t care how much therapy you go to. It’s there. It’s cosmic. It is part of “the image of God”, part of who you are as human being.

And when suffering comes, you will lose any sense of God’s love unless you see: here is “The One” who lost the Father’s coat, so you can be assured that you have it.  Here is The One who lost the Father’s love, paying our penalty so we could know – in spite of our imperfect life – God loves us.

When I ask God to accept me because of what Jesus has done, I get the coat. I know He loves me.

And if you know that, that means if right now today you’re in the pit and you’re crying out in dereliction, you cry out “Why am I completely alone?” You’re not.  Because Christianity is the only religion that even claims that God has suffered, that God has gone into that pit.  That God is there. God has also gone in there in the dark besides you. He knows what it’s like! He’s suffered with you. God suffered for you! He did! So you’re not alone. You can know, even in the midst of your suffering, that He loves you. And that’s what you actually need.

Let’s pray. Father show us how we can have – in our life – this coat: The assurance of Gods love; the assurance of Your love, Father; the assurance of your adoration and delight of us. And we pray that if we have that, we’ll be able to turn even suffering into joy. We will turn even our troubles into wisdom and holiness. And we ask that you show us how to do that. Here, as we take the Lord’s Supper, make yourself real to us. In Jesus name, Amen.” ((Tim Keller, The Hiddenness of God, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC, June 2003))

The Dark Side

 after-american-idol-its-time-for-vietnam-idol_14  The 7th season of American Idol has begun!  Once again we get to listen to the good, the bad and the ugly as they audition before Simon, Paula and Randy.

This year the judges are trying to relax the contestants before they sing by asking them, “What do we need to know about you?  What about you would we find interesting?” 

On the first night of auditions, a young woman with no guile simply said, “I have never seen an “R” rated movie.”  Shocked, Simon asked, “Why not?”

The young woman with gentleness said that this was just something she had grown up observing and that she simply continued it in adulthood because it suited her. 

When asked if she was married, she responded, “Yes, I have been married for three years.”  The judges asked if her husband had ever seen an “R” movie and she again with winsome simplicity respondedamerican-idol-judges. “No.”

At that, Randy and Simon cut eyes at each other and with disbelieving sneers suggested that this woman did not know her husband and that he surely was lying to her and probably enjoyed Internet porn. 

After her audition she was invited to go to Hollywood and Simon suggested that given a week he could bring her over to the “dark side.”

The next night a boyishly good looking young man answered the question, “What do we need to know about you?’ by saying, “I’ve never kissed a girl.”

Again, the male judges pounced with condescending sneers.  The young man explained that his desire was to save expressions of physical intimacy for the woman he would marry.  His audition was not that strong and he was not invited to Hollywood.  When he asked what he could do to improve, Randy snidely replied, “Kiss some girls!’

It makes me sad that values that seem ennobling of  human nature are the source of such settled and unchallenged derision. It makes me sad that being drawn from purity and chastity to the “dark side” of sensual indulgence is presented as something to be valued.

It occurs to me that the show is very aptly named–it is all abut the idolatry of America! 

We lust after fame, after what is material, after what is pleasing to the senses, what is erotic and self indulgent. 

The warning of Psalm 115 resonates in my heart–we become like what we worship!  Simon by his own admission says it is dark where he lives—I want to live in the light of His Presence!

For our God is in the heavens,
    and he does as he wishes.
4    Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
5    They cannot talk, though they have mouths,
    or see, though they have eyes!
6    They cannot hear with their ears,
    or smell with their noses,
7    or feel with their hands,
    or walk with their feet,
    or utter sounds with their throats!
8    And those who make them are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them.
(Psalm 115)


15    Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
    who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.
16    They rejoice in your name all day long;
    they exult in your righteousness.  (Psalm 89)

The Today Show

“So watch your step, friends.  Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. 

For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes.”

Hebrews 3:12-13, The Message

ages During a study of Acts in the Fall, I was struck by the view of history that the early Christians like Peter and Paul expressed in their preaching.  Often, they would recount the history of the Jews and highlight where they went astray–where they were diverted from the Living God. 

Paul’s purpose as he put the spotlight on history was to suggest that it was not just a story from the past that he was reminding people of but it was a story that was being repeated in his Today.

Continue reading “The Today Show”

Do you Sense His Love?

image154 This morning I was revisiting a favorite book by A.W. Tozer The Pursuit of Man.

He used a wonderful illustration to make the important distinction between knowing about Christ and His love andknowing it experientially.

Tozer asked, “What good would it do a starving child to know about bread when his stomach rolled and growled begging for food to be satisfied?”

A person can die of starvation knowing all about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables but knowing about them will not save him from starving!

“Knowledge by acquaintance is always better than mere knowledge by description.”

With that illustration in mind, I wondered about the love of God.  It is not uncommon to hear people proclaim that God is love, that He is by nature a loving and caring being.

loveofImage10b (Small) Wouldn’t life be more viscerally satisfying if we knew those truths by acquaintance rather than description? 

Maurice Roberts wrote on the subject of sensing the love of God and he suggested:

“The way to get God’s felt blessing on our hearts begins with an act of faith.  That is to say we must believe that there is such a thing to be had in this life. If we do not expect or even believe in such experiences, the probability is that we shall know but little of them.

There is, as we have sought to show, a true and scriptural enjoyment of Christ which is no fanaticism but the subjective fruit of the gospel.

Then, having become convinced that there is a genuine experience of a ‘felt Christ’ to be had on earth, we must go to God in prayer for it.  We come to the throne of grace as suppliants to receive this choice favor of ‘tasting’, or being made subjectively conscious of the love God has to us in Christ.

We do harm to our souls and hinder our own progress in the knowledge of God (remember how that differs from knowing about God) if we treat prayer as an exercise of the mind only and do not expect to emerge from the presence of God with a fresh token of His love born in us. ((Maurice Roberts, The Thought of God, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993, p.61))

What vitality would be breathed into our living if we stopped existing on the knowledge about God and sunk our teeth into subjective experience of tasting and seeing that God is good! Psalm 34:8

Let’s starve no more!

New Year’s Resolutions

resolutions I attended Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Asheville, North Carolina last Sunday and was inspired by a challenging sermon from Associate Pastor Mark Whipple. 

He began the sermon by suggesting that for the most part, our resolutions are self-centered, self improvement desires and give evidence of misdirected thinking.

He contrasted our normal resolutions of losing weight, quitting a bad habit, getting more exercise with the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. Here are a couple of his resolutions that make the contrast very clearly and highlight how trivial most of our Christian resolving has become:

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

happy-new-year While thinking about more challenging resolutions for 2008, Desiring God Ministries posted "10 Resolutions for Mental Health."

This list was also very helpful in focusing my thoughts and hopefully deepening them  on the subject of resolutions here at the beginning of 2008.