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Matthew Henry: Exercise willing dependence on God’s providence

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Leviticus 25:1-4

“All labour was to cease in the seventh year, as much as daily labour on the seventh day. These statues tell us to beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of his possessions. We are to exercise willing dependence on God’s providence for our support; to consider ourselves the Lord’s tenants or stewards, and to use our possessions accordingly. This year of rest typified the spiritual rest which all believers enter into through Christ. Through Him we are eased of the burden of wordly care and labour, both being sanctified and sweetened to us; and we are enabled and encouraged to live by faith.”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 162. Click to download freely this Bible commentary.

On this day, the Fourth of July in America, my mind reflects on the similarities between the Israelites and Americans. God’s people lived in slavery to the Egyptians. Americans wanted to be rid of British rule. Both longed for freedom from oppression. Our proclivity as humans back then and now, however, is to use our freedom for self-indulgence rather than selfless service.

After delivering the people, the Lord told Moses to tell the them to trust Him to care for their needs, to “exercise willing dependence on God’s providence.” So he gave them an assignment. They were to demonstrate trust by ceasing their labor and trusting God to supply. God’s servant, Moses, was to teach God’s people, as Henry rightly puts it, that “we are enabled and encouraged to live by faith.”

Last Sunday, our pastor, James Hoxworth preached a great sermon entitled, “Fear Not” on Psalm 46. He asked people to think about their fears. Our fears are often linked to misplaced faith. We trust in money and things rather than God. As “the Lord’s tenants and stewards” we can only be still and find rest in Christ. Like Henry and Hoxworth, let us teach others how to do it. In resting, we declare our dependence on God.

God, your design for your people back then and now has always been to learn to trust you. The only way we learn it is to cease from our toil and rest in you. As we do it, show us your faithfulness and our purpose, to show others how to find rest they seek. Thank you that we are both enabled and encouraged to live by faith in Jesus Christ alone who is faithful. Amen.

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Arthur Bennett: Learn by paradox

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. Luke 9:24

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty thy glory in my valley.

“The Valley of Vision” in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Trust, 1975) xv. Click to download a copy of this classic book of Puritan prayers and devotions.

This famous Puritan prayer reminds us that we must “learn by paradox” if we are to grow in this Christian faith. Everything about following Jesus is counterintuitive to our flesh.

Regarding generosity, “to give is to receive”, because in Christ “to have nothing is to possess all”, and to attain God’s riches we must actually move toward poverty. My wife, Jenni, and I have learned, along with our son and daughter, Sammy and Sophie, that you only figure it out when you live it out.

Father, help us learn by paradox. Holy Spirit, show us how to unlearn life by sight and teach us to live by faith. Jesus, cause our humility to bring you glory. Amen.

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L.B. Cowman: Give God an opportunity to work

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2

“Spiritual forces cannot work while we are trusting earthly forces. Often we fail to give God an opportunity to work, not realizing that it takes time for Him to answer prayer. It takes time for God to color a rose or to grow a great oak tree. And it takes time for Him to make bread from wheat fields. He takes the soil, then grinds and softens it. He enriches it and wets it with rain showers and with dew. Then He brings the warmth of life to the small blade of grass, later grows the stalk and the amber grain, and finally provides bread for the hungry. All this takes time. Therefore we sow the seed, till the ground, and then wait and trust until God’s purpose has been fulfilled. We understand this principle when it comes to planting a field, and we need to learn the same lesson regarding our prayer life. It takes time for God to answer prayer.”

Lettie Burd or “L.B.” Cowman (1870-1960) in Streams in the Desert, reading for 18 April (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 160. Here’s yet another classic devotional book available freely online in PDF form.

The human tendency is to trust in earthly forces to make things happen. As the greatest earthly power is money, many try to use money to make things happen, to control outcomes, to solve problems. If this pattern guides our giving, we don’t exhibit Christian generosity. Such activity merely reflects us taking matters into our own hands. Think about it. It’s like we are trying to play God. That’s not our role!

What if, alternatively, “we give God an opportunity to work” and make that way of thinking the cornerstone of our generosity. If we believe and trust in His sovereignty, we can obey His teachings and trust that He can answer prayer and sort situations better than we can. So what’s our role? We are simply sowers. We sow ourselves and resources that He supplies not trying to solve problems but show His love as obedient, grateful disciples.

And we leave all the results to God in prayer. That way He’s sure to get the glory for all that happens! This perspective brings today’s Scripture squarely into view. We devote ourselves to prayer with watchfulness, which is anticipation that in His time He will work, and with thankfulness, which is gratitude that God will do his part to sort all the world’s problems. And this posture shows we depend on His spiritual forces rather than earthly ones!

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Presumption and Smooth Places

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. Psalm 30:6-7

“Give a man wealth; let his ships bring home continually rich freights; let the winds and waves appear to be his servants to bear his vessels across the bosom of the mighty deep; let his lands yield abundantly: let the weather be propitious to his crops; let uninterrupted success attend him; let him stand among men as a successful merchant; let him enjoy continued health; allow him with braced nerve and brilliant eye to march through the world, and live happily; give him the buoyant spirit; let him have the song perpetually on his lips; let his eye be ever sparkling with joy — and the natural consequence of such an easy state to any man, let him be the best Christian who ever breathed, will be presumption; even David said, “I shall never be moved;” and we are not better than David, nor half so good.

Brother, beware of the smooth places of the way; if you are treading them, or if the way be rough, thank God for it. If God should always rock us in the cradle of prosperity; if we were always dandled on the knees of fortune; if we had not some stain on the alabaster pillar; if there were not a few clouds in the sky; if we had not some bitter drops in the wine of this life, we should become intoxicated with pleasure, we should dream “we stand;” and stand we should, but it would be upon a pinnacle; like the man asleep upon the mast, each moment we should be in jeopardy. We bless God, then, for our afflictions; we thank him for our changes; we extol his name for losses of property; for we feel that had he not chastened us thus, we might have become too secure. Continued worldly prosperity is a fiery trial.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon in Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL) morning reading for 10 March. This is a classic devotional with short devotionals to read twice daily. Click to download the PDF. As we find ourselves now embarking on the second half of 2018 (Can you believe it?), I looked for the theme of abundance in this work and found keen wisdom for us about presumption and smooth places.

The world aims at wealth and prosperity, preserving comfort and smooth living, and avoiding difficult times at all costs. All this presumes that people are in control and positions them for self-indulgence and a host of related sins! No wonder Spurgeon says “Beware” and rightly directs us to the words of David in Psalm 30 to remind us that life has highs and lows linked only to the favor of God. Since that’s true, we must focus on the Lord rather than lands or losses!

What does this have to do with generosity? We follow the world’s pattern if we think giving flows from our capacity. It does not. Our lands or losses are determined by the Lord. All we choose is what to do with what the Lord entrusts us. When we use his provision faithfully, He often supplies more. The key, which is why it’s a fiery trial, is not to worship the provision, but rather the Provider, by obediently putting to work all He supplies to maintain a posture of dependence.

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Randy Kipp: Huge heavenly significance

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:12

Two days ago, my daily meditation was entitled “Ann Voskamp: Leave Noticeable Marks” and in response I received an email from a dear friend, Randy Kipp. He shared an illustration from his teaching days that blessed me. He gave me permission to pass it on to you as today’s post. Enjoy.

“In teaching science to my students I would fill different sized containers with water to the very brim. Students would put their finger in the water and observe. Water would spill out. The water level is raised each time. The physics is that all matter takes up space. Spiritually, the lesson is about how little things make a difference even if unseen. So, as the water level is raised when the finger was placed into the container, the ocean level is raised when a finger is placed into it. The ocean water level change can’t be seen nor measured, but the change occurs. When we do small things, when we leave those marks in Christ’s name (or even not in Christ’s name), we are part of a change of another’s eternity. That small touch, that little mark, has huge heavenly significance even though we might not see or realize it.

Today’s meditation also goes along with a prayer that I enjoy praying every Thursday morning at the men’s group: The Litany of Humility. My desire is to join God in what He is doing in the world by being used as His instrument to leave those noticeable marks for Jesus while I remain unnoticed. So much work yet to be done in my life regarding humility. LOL! Thanks for these daily meditations.”

Randy Kipp in personal email to Gary Hoag on 28 June 2018. Randy drives for work, and prays throughout the day. I know him as the “Mobile Monk” as he often drives me to the airport in the middle of the night when I have to depart on early morning flights linked to long trips. What a saint! The little lifts he gives me make a big difference!

Thank you Lord, for friends like Randy who are brave enough to dip themselves into the ocean of life in service with humility even when they see no noticeable difference, knowing that we make a “huge heavenly significance” when our service, which often goes unnoticed, is done with great love in the name of Christ.

As a bonus, here is The Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Va (1865-1930). Pray it with me today.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed …
Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)
From the desire of being loved …
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others …
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised …
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should …

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Henri Nouwen: Multiply

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 John 2

“Beloved is beyond anything we ourselves can imagine. One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die. We often see or feel only the dying, but the harvest will be abundant even when we ourselves are not the harvesters.

How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, ever little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it…and that — even then — there will be leftovers!”

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) in Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (New York: Crossroad, 2002) 123.

I’m at home working on a project that has the potential to bring abundant impact for generations after me should our Lord Jesus Christ tarry His return. Perhaps you’ve worked on such projects. For this reason, I am sitting in the idea of what it means to sow my life like a little seed to produce an abundant harvest for those after me.

Nouwen sets forth a profound truth for us: “One of the greatest acts of faith is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil.” Will you believe this with me? We can multiply the impact of our lives by giving them away with intentionality and generosity for God’s glory.

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Ann Voskamp: Leave noticeable marks

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8

“Real love dares you to the really dangerous: Die in the diminutive. Be broken and given in the small, the moments so small no one may applaud at all. Pour out your life in laundry rooms and over toilets and tubs, and pour out life on the back streets, in the back of the room, back behind the big lights. Pour out your life in small moments, because it’s only these moments that add up to the monumental. The only way to live a truly remarkable life is not to get everyone to notice you, but to leave noticeable marks of His love everywhere you go.”

Ann Voskamp in The Way of Abundance: A 60-Day Journey into a Deeply Meaningful Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018) 107-108.

To “leave noticeable marks” of God’s love requires us to be filled with God’s love so that we can generously dispense it wherever we go. I am convinced we cannot will ourselves to “die in the diminutive” but we can do it when we know deeply and intimately the One who is love. These moments will look different for each of us but all of them will have the same defining feature: love. Leave noticeable marks today, tomorrow, and every day after that!

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George Müller: In Him Alone

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8

“As the Lord is pleased by death to remove donors, or to take away from them the ability to continue to help us, or to direct their means into other channels; so also He raises up new donors, or inclines the hearts of those who have helped us before, to do this more abundantly…God is pleased continually to vary His mode of dealing with us, in order that we may not be tempted to trust in donors, or in circumstances, but in Him alone, and to keep our eye fixed upon Him.”

George Müller (1805-1898) in George Müller in A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller, Written by Himself, Sixth Part (London: J. Nisbet, 1886) 212.

Anyone engaged in God’s work can be tempted to trust in the support of wealthy people rather than God to supply. Here Müller notes rightly that God is pleased to change up the sources of provision in order to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Join me in resolving to pour out all needs to God and trust Him to provide as our mighty rock and refuge.

Though everyone enjoys God’s supply at varying levels, we must give abundantly as God directs, for we are His distributors. Our time to do this is short. Someday the Lord will be pleased by death to relieve each of us of our duties. With all we are and all we have while we enjoy the gift of life, let us participate abundantly, trusting God to sustain us for His glory.

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Jeremiah Burroughs: Very timely cordial

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:11-13

“This text contains a very timely cordial to revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinking times. For the “hour of temptation” has already come upon all the world to try the inhabitants of the earth.

Our great Apostle holds forth experimentally in this text the very life and soul of all practical divinity. In it, we may plainly read his own proficiency in the school of Christ and what lesson every Christian who would prove the power and growth of godliness in his own soul must necessarily learn from him. These words are brought in by Paul as a clear argument to persuade the Philippians that he did not seek after great things in the world, and that he sought not “theirs” but “them.” He did not long for great wealth; his heart was taken up with better things. “I do not speak,” he says, “in respect of want, for whether I have or have not, my heart is fully satisfied, I have enough: ‘I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’”

“In whatsoever state I am.” The word state is not in the original, but simply “in what I am,” that is, in whatever concerns or befalls me, whether I have little or nothing at all.

“Therewith to be content.” The word rendered “content” here has great elegance and fullness of meaning in the original. In the strict sense, it is only attributed to God, Who has styled Himself “God all-sufficient,” in that He rests fully satisfied in and with Himself alone. But He is pleased freely to communicate His fullness to the creature, so that from God in Christ the saints receive “grace for grace” (John 1:16). As a result, there is in them the same grace that is in Christ, according to their measure. In this sense, Paul says, I have a “self-sufficiency,” which is what the word means.

You will say, “How are we sufficient of ourselves?” Our Apostle affirms in another case, “That we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves” (2 Corinthians 3:5). Therefore his meaning must be, “I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.” This interpretation agrees with, “A good man is satisfied from himself” (Proverbs 14:14), and with Paul of himself: “…having nothing yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Because he had a right to the covenant and promise, which virtually contains everything, and an interest in Christ, the fountain and good of all, it is no marvel that he said that in whatsoever state he was in, he was content.

Thus, you have the true interpretation of the text. I shall not make any division of the words because I take them only to promote the one most necessary duty: quieting and comforting the hearts of God’s people under the troubles and changes they meet with in these heart-shaking times.

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) in The Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust) 2-3. Recently, I’ve had multiple email and face-to-face conversations about contentment with friends in various places in the world. Few writers cover the topic as thoroughly and biblically as Burroughs. Click to read the whole piece freely.

Without Christian contentment, no one can experience joy and peace in sad and sinking times. It serves as the “very timely cordial” for facing any set of troubles.

“Self-sufficiency” in the world’s view describes a person that has enough money to live. If that is your view, you are enslaved to money and likely unaware of it. I hate to break it to you, but it’s the truth. And the reason such a view will never bring you the joy and peace you seek is that you can never have enough money to address the infinite possibilities of life.

Alternatively, Burroughs explains “self-sufficiency” in Christ beautifully:

“I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.”

In short, this is the secret to it: if we have Christ, we have everything we have ever needed in the past, that we ever need in the present, and will ever need in the future. Only thus with joy and peace can we be generous because we have come to realize that we have all sufficiency in Him, so can we be generous at all times and all occasions.

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Dallas Willard: Anxiety vs. More or Less Crazy

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:8

“If we do value “mammon” as normal people seem to think we should, our fate is fixed. Our fate is anxiety. It is worry. It is frustration. The words anxious and worry both have reference to strangling or being choked. Certainly that is how we feel when we are anxious. Things and events have us by the throat and seem to be cutting off our life. We are being harmed, or we fear what will come upon us, and all our efforts are insufficient to do anything about it.

Because we have the option, in reliance upon Jesus, of having abundant treasures in the realm of the heavens, Jesus gives us another of His “therefores.” “Therefore don’t be anxious for your physical existence, concerning what you will have to eat or drink, or how you will clothe your body” (Matt. 6:25). Life is not about food, He continues to say, nor the body about clothes. It is about a place in God’s immortal kingdom now. Eternity is, in part, what we are now living.

Jesus reminds us to look at living things around us in nature. In particular He refers us to birds and wildflowers. What is most relevant about the birds is that they do not “lay up treasures upon earth.” They receive from their world, under God, daily food for daily needs. When we watch them we are reminded of the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today the food we need for today.”

And as for the birds, it is not so much that birds do not work. They are among the busiest citizens of our world. Some, such as domestic chickens, are observed to work very hard. We too should work, and sometimes work hard. But our feathered friends do not seem to worry about the physical supports of their life, such as food and water and shelter. They simply seek it as they need it and take what they find. And that is how we should be. Having our treasures in heaven frees us to live simply in the present so far as our vital needs are concerned. We work hard, of course, and we care for our loved ones. But we do not worry — not even about them. Having food and clothing and God, we can be content (1 Tim. 6:8)…

People who are ignorant of God — the ethne, or “nations,” who also pray, we have seen, with mechanical meaninglessness — live to eat and drink and dress. “For such things the ‘Gentiles’ seek” — and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety and anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare.

By contrast, those who understand Jesus and His Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always “seeking first the kingdom.” That is, they “place top priority on identifying and involving themselves in what God is doing and in the kind of rightness [dikaiosune] He has. All else needed is provided” (6:33). They soon enough have a track record to prove it…

The “Western” segment of the church today lives in a bubble of historical illusion about the meaning of discipleship and the gospel. We are dominated by the essentially Enlightenment values that rule American culture: pursuit of happiness, unrestricted freedom of choice, disdain of authority. The prosperity gospels, the gospels of liberation, and the comfortable sense of “what life is all about” that fills the minds of most devout Christians in our circles are the result. How different is the gritty realization of James: “Friends of the world (kosmou) are enemies of God” (James 4:4) And John: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2 John 2:15).

If we do not treasure earthly goods we must be prepared to be treated as more or less crazy. This is also true if we escape the delusions of respectability and so are not governable by the opinions of those around us, even though we respect them in love…”

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) in Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) 209-14. Click the link to download and read this modern-day classic.

As I just read a chapter of it, I felt like Dallas was reading it to me, because I was reminded of a conversation with him about ten years ago at a conference in Long Beach, California. I asked, “How important is it to teach stewardship and generosity to seminary students?” After a long pause, he said, “It’s absolutely vital to share those truths because our world is filled with lies.” He continued. “On my drive here from my home today to this hotel, I read various billboards and most all of them told lies about who I am and what I need. People need to know the truth about those matters, and pastors must teach them, otherwise their focus will be consumed by the things of this world.”

It was one of those conversations I will never forget. And sure this is a long post, but nothing like the book, which is 466 pages. Don’t miss this point of my sharing of this excerpt.

If we follow the world’s wisdom, our focus becomes fixed on mammon. We will are consumed by what we eat, drink, what we wear, and where we live. The world’s messages bombard us with discontentment which breeds “anxiety” and hinders generosity! If, alternatively, we go against the flow and follow Jesus, people will treat us like we are “more or less crazy” but regardless, we take hold of life in the kingdom now, and we are positioned to be generous because we have found that we have everything we need in Christ so we can be content with basic food, clothing, and shelter.

In an increasingly consumeristic global economy, I am becoming convinced that our greatest everyday witness as followers of Jesus may be our contentment with basic needs. Are you?

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