Step Out

As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.

Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.

– Oswald Chambers, “December 31: ‘Yesterday’” in My Utmost for His Highest

Chambers’ entire entry for today is brilliantly true, for God is the God of all time, a God who can be trusted with what was, what is, and what is to come. In Chambers’ words, God offers “Security  from Yesterday,” “Security for Tomorrow,” and “Security for Today.” We need not be shackled by the sins, mistakes, and failures of our past, we need not be overcome with worries about our future, and we can be assured that we will find grace enough for today.

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and Revelation 1:8 declares, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” God is God over all time and has acted in time, thus, I can trust God with my time, you can trust God with your time, and we can trust God with our time. Time, after all, is a gift, and we have been given time enough for love by God, love eternal.

So as you make resolutions, if you do so, or as you look to the year ahead, let go of the past, release anxieties about the future, and rest in grace for today. Then, with patient power, step out. God goes before you, God stands behind you, and God walks with you.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

The widely accepted estimate is that there are about 9,000 different species [of birds] in the world . . . Although I have had the privilege of traveling in many countries and habitats, I have seen only about 2,500 species.

Only one person has seen them all, and that of course is God himself, their creator “… So God created…every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:20-21). In consequence, he is able to claim: “I know all the birds of the air, and the creatures of the field are mine” (Psalm 50:11, literally). More than that, since Jesus said that not a single Sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of God (Matthew 10:29), he must know not only every species of bird, but every individual member of each species as well. And that would mean many thousands and millions.

– John Stott, The Birds Our Teachers, pp. 8-9, quoted in Rejoice! Advent in All the Scriptures (affiliate link), by Chris Wright with John Stott

Here is Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount.

Is He Worthy?

Truett Seminary held a convocation service yesterday at the First Baptist Church of Waco, marking the beginning of our twenty-fifth year of ministry.

Supporters of Truett, faculty and staff, leaders at Baylor, members of the community, many students, and members of the inaugural class gathered to dedicate the year ahead to God. This silver anniversary, as it is, presents the opportunity to look back and give thanks, to look around and take stock, and to look ahead and dream of what might be. The service and the luncheon that followed were wonderful from gathering to goodbye.

One particular moment of our time together, however, left a great impression upon me. Prior to hearing from Dr. William D. Shiell, President of Northern Seminary, who would offer our convocation address, we listened to the Truett Chapel Worship Ensemble present “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson.

I revisited the song today, paying particular attention to the lyrics, thinking carefully about the words themselves. My cheeks became damp with tears. The music is beautiful. The visuals are quite good. But the song’s power comes from the words. They are powerful because they are the truth about the deepest realities of existence, expressing not only the promises of God as they are found in Scripture that inspire hope in the deepest recesses of the human heart, but also by pointing us to the person who has fulfilled them all.

Jesus, indeed, is worthy.

Disciplined Reading

Do not say…that one or two books is sufficient for instructing the soul. After all, even the bee collects honey not from one or two flowers only, but from many. Thus also he who reads the books of the Holy Fathers is instructed by one in faith or in right thinking, by another in silence and prayer, by another in obedience and humility and patience, by another in self-reproach and in love for God and neighbor; and, to speak briefly, from many books of the Holy Fathers a man is instructed in life according to the Gospel.

– Paisius Velichkovsky

Paisius Velichkovsky was an Eastern Orthodox monk and theologian. His observation is a rather simple one: we must learn wisdom from the bee, gathering wisdom diligently, broadly, and with great discipline. He exhorts us to read from the Holy Fathers, from the saints of old, who can instruct us in the Gospel and in Christian living. Our souls, being great things, need great nourishment. Like the bee, the gathering should take place daily, not from a paltry collection of sources, but from a diversity of literary riches.

I like to read and study. Not everyone is like me. Thank God. But if I could offer one bit of encouragement to others who, like me, are following Jesus, it would be to read a little more often than you do now. Begin with the Bible, particularly if Scripture is something you neglect. Scripture is a dietary staple. But then add to that a work of theology, or a historical work about a person who has been important to the Christian tradition.

Pay particular mind to your denominational heritage, if you have one (if you are a Methodist, read Wesley, if you are a Presbyterian, read Calvin, etc., etc.). I’d like the Baptists I know to be better Baptists, the Methodists I know to exemplify the best of their tradition, and on and on. Consider doing as Velichkovsky recommends: read the Church Fathers. Read Augustine. Read Athanasius. Read the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The old stuff is profoundly rich.

Choose one or two or three great theologians or renowned saints. Get to know them well, even if a little bit at a time. Pick up their work. Buy a book and learn about their lives. Read each day. Choose wisely. Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Apply. Grow.

The Secrets of God

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Photo by Fonsi Fernández on Unsplash

At first we want the consciousness of being guided by God, then as we go on we live so much in the consciousness of God that we do not need to ask what His will is, because the thought of choosing any other will never occur to us. If we are saved and sanctified God guides us by our ordinary choices, and if we are going to choose what He does not want, He will check, and we must heed. . .God instructs us in what we choose, that is, He guides by our common sense, and we no longer hinder His Spirit by continually saying–“Now, Lord, what is Your will?”

– Oswald Chambers, “The Secret of the Lord,” My Utmost for His Highest

Chambers follows a citation of Psalm 25:14 with a question, “What is the sign of a friend? That he tells you secret sorrows?” Chambers, rightly, says that many are glad to share their troubles, not only friends. No. A friend draws near not uniquely by sharing their woes, but instead when disclosing “secret joys.” When do we receive secret joys from God? Chambers answers with a question: “Have we ever let God tell us any of His joys, or are we telling God our secrets so continually that we leave no room for Him to talk to us?” If God has secret joys to share, surely we want to hear them. Hush. Listen.

Chambers identifies an ever-present Christian concern: knowing the will of God. We often seek the will of God by asking, presenting our requests. We pray, desiring assurance that every choice, every avenue we take, every word we utter, every feeling we have, every thought that crosses our mind, is, with certainty, according to the will of God. But Chambers gently reminds us that answers come with listening and through relationship, the means by which God “gets us in touch with His purposes.”

How does God do so? We listen for the voice of God in prayer; we also study the Word of God in Scripture. God has spoken, and God speaks. We also remain mindful that when we face trials and tribulations, it is through those circumstances that God conforms us to the likeness of Jesus, refines us by the fire of the Spirit, and matures us in faith. We look upon our days with and through the eyes of faith, trusting that God is there, present, with us, has not left us nor forsaken us, and is, right now, renewing our minds, hearts, souls, bodies.

Sanctification is a promise. God does set us apart as holy and will, by grace, render change in those who sincerely trust him–of outlook, understanding, feeling, or hope–at God’s own rate of speed. Our arrival at that place of transformation is often by a circuitious route that we would not choose nor could ever design. It comes when God confides in us, guides us, teaches us, instructs us, not only in what we should actively avoid, but how we are to be and become: people of love, gentleness, wisdom, discernment, service, truth, joy, peace, and humility.

Chambers is clear in reminding us that God knows every detail of our lives. God shares “amazing intimacy” with us. God knows us best, tending to our “tiny things,” in which God reveals his grace. As grace takes effect, we speak differently, we feel differently, we think differently and believe differently, we become like God by learning the way of Christ from Christ and in Christ.

The brilliance, I think, in Chambers’ meditation is the suggestion that we are not always consciousness with regard to how or why God has brought about our harmony with God’s will, our freedom in Christ, and our accountability to the Spirit. We desire God’s guidance. We draw near to God. Then, we find ourselves doing things that stem from being bathed in God’s grace, immersed in God’s Word, and present to God’s Spirit. We don’t always perceive it. We should. Chambers says God “guides our common sense,” which might also be said as, “God gives us wisdom” or “adjusts our judgment.”

That which seems natural to us was once unnatural. Our common sense would not be common apart from the God who is truth. The supernatural has taken up residence in us, the Spirit of God has made a home in us, and God’s immeasurable grace has done a quiet work in making us something we could never have become without The redeeming work of Jesus.

To walk in the will of God as though it were the only way to walk, the most natural way, is an incredible testament to the gracious action of God. God has shared “secret joys” with us, the greatest of which is God’s very self. God is there to be known, and God makes that knowing possible.

Gratitude: Humbling and Elevating

Being grateful to a Supreme Being and to other people is an acknowledgement that there are good and enjoyable things in the world to be enjoyed in accordance with the giver’s intent. Good things happen by design. If a person believes in the spiritual concept of grace, they believe that there is a pattern of beneficence in the world that exists quite independently of their own striving and even their own existence. Gratitude thus depends upon receiving what we do not expect to receive or have not earned or receiving more than we believe we deserve. This awareness is simultaneously humbling and elevating.

– Robert A. Emmons, “Queen of the Virtues and King of the Vices” in Psychology and Spiritual Formation in Dialogue: Moral and Spiritual Change in Christian Perspective, 174

Emmons writes that gratitude increases spiritual awareness, promotes physical health, maximizes the good, protects against the negative, and strengthens relationships. It “frees us from ourselves,” though gratitude can be “hard and painful work.”

According to Emmons, to remain in the discipline of gratitude we must pay attention and actively remember what we have received that we are grateful for, which can be reinforced by practices like letter writing or keeping a journal, and through worship, particularly when our liturgies help us notice God’s activity and recall God’s faithfulness both past and present. God may have been active in our lives directly or through a neighbor. And signs of God’s faithfulness may be found in our lives today or through hearing the story of Scripture. Gratitude requires an “external focus.” A self-focused way of being inhibits gratitude.

What are you grateful for today?