Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Commonplace Book II - Psalm 51

Dear Reader,

Tonight, the words of Matthew Henry in his Commentary on the Whole Bible as they relate to Psalm 51:

"...It is a pity indeed that in our devout addresses to God we should have any thing else to do than to praise God, for that is the work of heaven; but we make other work for ourselves by our own sins and follies: we must come to the throne of grace in the posture of penitents, to confess our sins and sue for the grace of God."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Commonplace Book I - Rejoice Evermore!

Dear Reader,

I've just finished watching (for the second time) the HBO miniseries on John Adams that came out a couple years ago. I recommend it to anyone interested in a refreshingly accurate depiction of the life of one of our nation's Founders.

The final episode, entitled Peacefield, contains one of my favorite scenes in the entire series: Now an old man, Adams is walking with his son Thomas through a cornfield when he leans in close and says to Thomas, as though imparting a great secret, "I have seen a queen of France bedecked with eighteen million livre of jewels, and yet it is not fairer to me than that little shrub right there." and he points to a clump of ragweed. "Rejoice evermore!" he concludes. Thomas asks him what he means, and Adams repeats himself several more times: "Rejoice evermore!" finally chiding his son for not recognizing the quote from St. Paul.

In 1 Thess. 5 we find this quote in context: "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess. 5:16-22 KJV)

That, I would say, pretty much says it all: What simple joys we choose to ignore, or overlook, in our quest for what we think will provide us satisfaction and happiness! What cause do we who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb have to spend our days in any other mood than a humble, thankful joy?

I pray that I might learn to live more in that mood of joyful gratitude. As John Adams said: "Oh, how I wish those words had been always in my heart and on my lips."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Dear Reader,

Over the past week, I've come to find myself rather busy. I've taken on several volunteer activities, in addition to working fulltime and pursuing a Master's Degree. This week, of all things, we ended up being very busy at work, too.

I can't say I'm as busy as I've ever been, and certainly not that I'm the busiest person I know (Far from it!) but when I think of my level of activity and productivity today versus the long and boring evenings that characterized my life several months ago, I'm encouraged by this thought: When we pursue the things that God has called us to, instead of focusing on what we want to do, we are well equipped to take on every challenge that He throws at us. As with most things related to God and how we go about doing His will, if He has set forth a task for us, He will strengthen us to accomplish it.

What a comfort that is! Think about it: When we feel overwhelmed with tasks, we can ask ourselves which of those tasks are productive, God-given assignments, and which are things that we have assigned ourselves, or that are not focused on enabling us to pursue His calling for us? This forms the easiest way to prioritize our days! Not that there is anything wrong with doing things we enjoy, but not at the expense of our duties, and higher callings.

As I prepare in a couple hours to end this day, I pray that God will help me to properly prioritize my day tomorrow, that I may attend to His work first, and the needs of others second, and finally my own desires. I rest in confidence that, so long as my pursuits follow that pattern, He has promised to bless my endeavors, and to reward my labors with fruit and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Every Morning

Dear Reader,

The words of an old friend brought to mind this passage:

"This I recall to mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul,
'Therefore I will hope in Him!'"
(Lamentations 3:21-24)

How easily I forget that God's mercy, His faithfulness, and His love for me are new every morning. How quickly I find myself thinking "oh, where is God now? He was just here, and now I feel alone again!"

Nothing could be farther from the truth. He's not only always present, but He's always present in a fresh and a new way every day. I can see God in places I didn't see Him yesterday, hear His voice in ways I didn't hear it yesterday. The truth is that God isn't just a trusted and faithful companion Who walks beside me when He feels like it. He is the undercurrent of life itself.

The reason the Bible talks (Ps. 63:1) about us seeking Him early in the morning is not so that we can prepare ourselves for a day-long session of trying to drag God kicking and screaming back into our lives after He's determined to be distant and aloof today. It is so that we can still our hearts, and prepare ourselves for each new day with Him showing us new and greater evidences of His mercy and grace.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Dear Reader,

At this point, I've probably read C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters" four or five times. It used to be one of my favorite books. Sometime between last night (when I started re-reading it) and this afternoon (when I finished it) it became my favorite book. Period. If you haven't read it, read it. If you have read it, but don't own a copy, I would suggest you go out and buy one. My copy is 172 pages long, and each page is PACKED with insight into temptation, and each page seemed to cry out to me with ways that I've been tempted and tried in the last few months! Oh, what a wealth of spiritual insight is in this little tiny book!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Dear Reader,

I've recently finished reading the book I told you about a little while ago, Alone With God by John MacArthur. As mentioned, the book is focused on prayer, and on the place that prayer should play in the life of a Christian. MacArthur also discusses the Lord's Prayer, breaking down for his readers the key petitions and their modern-day relevance.

The petition that stuck out particularly to me, and that I want to write about tonight, is "forgive us our debts". As MacArthur points out, to be forgiven requires confession. What do I mean when I say confession? MacArthur brings out several key points that I want to elaborate on tonight.

First, he makes the point that confession of sin, like the rest of the act of prayer, is a means for us to be drawn closer into the will of God. It is an alignment of our hearts with His. Like intercession (praying on behalf of someone else) and adoration (speaking to God about Himself, praising Him for who He is) and even supplication (praying for "our daily bread"--the needs that we have in our lives) confession is not primarily intended to affect God, but rather to affect us. When we pray to God for others, in praise, or for our needs, we aren't telling Him anything He doesn't already know. Rather, in the act of prayer, we are letting Him speak to us, we are focusing our attentions on Him, and we are meditating on His excellence in order to be drawn closer to Him. When we pray "Thy will be done," should we be surprised that our prayer is answered? When we pray "MY will be done" we are usually disappointed.

So it is with confession of sin in prayer. We aren't informing God of our sin--He who sees the inward heart of Man knows already, even sins that we have forgotten or dismissed as "unimportant." Rather, we are reminding ourselves of sin.

MacArthur makes an excellent point here: The very word "Confession" itself has become ill-used in modern evangelical thought. To "Confess" something does not mean to say we're sorry. It doesn't carry a pejorative connotation. Rather, confession is actually a term denoting agreement. Webster's defines confession as "acknowledgement, avowal, admission." or "A formal profession of belief." In fact, in Romans 10, Paul says "...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (10:9) Confession, then, is agreement, acknowledgement, and profession.

Therefore, seeing this, private confession to God is not telling Him of our sins. Rather, it is agreeing with Him that our sins are heinous, and offensive to Him. It is burdening our hearts with the weight of our sin, and with the consciousness of how desperately we need forgiveness.

Confession doesn't stop there, though. With that consciousness of our desperate situation comes, for the Christian, the awesome peace of knowing that we HAVE been forgiven, that our Savior has paid our price! Confession is a freeing experience, not a burdensome one for the Christian. Confession frees us from the weight of guilt, it does not add to that weight!

I would be faulty if I didn't here mention something of the difference between confession to God and confession to those we have wronged. As David says in Ps 51, our sin is primarily against God, and Him alone. However, we also live in a world of interactions, and our misdeeds do frequently cause hurt, grief, and pain to others. The key distinction between our confession to God and our confession to those we have hurt is this: With God, who knows all things, even before we speak, we are primarily focused on changing our hearts, and accepting the forgiveness that He has already paid for in the death of His Son. When we confess to those we have hurt, or to others who will keep us accountable, we are, in many cases, telling them something they don't already know, and we earnestly seek their forgiveness, without the certainty that it will be provided. We know that, as Christians, we are to imitate Christ and forgive as He forgave, but in the imperfection of our hearts, a confession of sin to another does not automatically grant forgiveness.

Yet, there are similarities. The freedom from guilt and shame is still there. The forgiveness should still be there, human frailty notwithstanding, and our relationship with our fellow man can be restored just as much as our relationship with God.

To close, let's look at 1 John 1:8-9: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."