Jesus, All For Jesus

 

Yesterday we sang a song during our weekend worship services that truly captured the heart and message of the book of Hebrews – “Jesus, All for Jesus”

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.

For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

As we pursue a vision of the supremacy of Christ in all things, this is what it looks like… surrendering all of our ambitions, hopes, and plans to Jesus, knowing that it’s only in His will that we are truly free. Where are those areas of your life where you’re giving Him free reign? Ask for more of Him in those areas. And where are the areas where you have yet to give Him lordship? It’s not as if He needs it, but give Him full permission to take over all of your life. Jesus is either Lord of all or not Lord at all. As we walk with Him, through Him, and for Him, those areas of become increasingly apparent and painful and we long for His grace and presence in every place of our heart and lives. “Jesus, all for Jesus. All I am and have and ever hope to be.”

Unstable or Unshakable?

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” ~ Hebrews 12:11

Here’s the reality about spiritual formation: the forming in “formation” is painful. Forming always means change.  Let’s face it, we often don’t like change. The way that God changes us involves removing things that aren’t about Him… removing our unstable, earthly values and replace them with and forming in us His unshakable, eternal values.

Everything that He does and allows is for our greatest good, for our spiritual maturity, and for our everlasting joy. I know that’s difficult to believe, especially when we are going through difficult seasons in our lives. And that’s why we live by faith… even and especially when we don’t see and we’re not sure of what God is up to in our confusion and crises. As He removes the unstable and replaces it with the unshakable, we walk and live by faith, believing that God is who He says He is and that He does what He says He does.  But remember that in the moment, it’s not pleasant. It’s not always filled with immediate joy. That tends to and seems to come afterward.

Here’s what A.W. Tozer wrote about the pain of true spiritual formation in The Pursuit of God:

The ancient curse will not go out painlessly; the tough old miser within us will not lie down and die obedient to our command. He must be torn out of our heart like a plant from the soil; he must be extracted in agony and blood like a tooth from the jaw. He must be expelled from our soul by violence as Christ expelled the money changers from the temple. And we shall need to steel ourselves against his piteous begging, and to recognize it as springing out of self-pity, one of the most reprehensible sins of the human heart.

Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all Those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Where in your life is He removing the unstable to form the unshakable?

Rehearsing the Gospel

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2)

As we run the race of faith even amidst the confusion of life, we run by fixing our eyes and hearts on Jesus. And we fix our eyes upon Jesus by daily rehearsing the gospel. C.J. Mahaney in his The Cross-Centered Life gives us some practical steps on how we can rehearse the gospel, and in doing so, fix our eyes on Jesus.

1. Memorize the gospel. Memorize passages specifically about the gospel. Passages like Philippians 2:5-11, John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:21. When we memorize these gospel passages, they help us fix our eyes on Jesus and run with faith and endurance.

2. Pray the gospel. Every day, begin with praying the gospel. Begin with gratitude by thanking God for the blessing of being reunited with Him because of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Thank Him for being with you through all of life’s ups and downs. And then ask Him to graciously give you the strength and the desire to daily deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow after Jesus.

3. Sing the gospel. Make singing a cross-centered song a regular part of your day.  Get some worship CDs or download songs that have great cross-centered messages. Search carefully because many songs tend to make much of us and not much of Christ. Many of the songs that we sing at Northshore have been “theologically vetted” to make much of Christ and the cross… songs like “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “In Christ Alone,” “Here is Love,” and “Sing to Jesus.”

4. Review how the gospel has changed you.  While we should never be held captive to our past, we should look back at our past to see our present transformation because of the grace of Jesus Christ and His glorious cross.  Write out your testimony… spell out the heart of the gospel… the blood of Christ, shed personally for your sins.  Explain how God saved you and changed you.

5. Study the Gospel. Study intently the passages that focus on the gospel. Read the entirety of the Bible with your eyes focused on the gospel… it’s been said that every passage of Scripture, OT and NT, either predicts, prepares for, reflects, or results from the work of Christ.  So study the gospel.

It is as we fix our eyes upon Jesus, rehearsing the gospel daily, that we run the race with endurance, perseverance, and faith.

How do you keep your eyes, heart, and life fixed on Jesus as you run the race of faith?

Praying the Names of God

If Christian faith finds it’s object as God, then we need to go to the Scriptures to see how God reveals Himself.  One of the key ways that God reveals His character and nature to us is by revealing His name to us.  And here’s what’s interesting… God knows His name.  He’s not revealing His name in the Scriptures for Himself. He’s revealing His name for us. He speaks His name for us, for our needs, to engage the needs of the people with whom He is in covenant relationship.  A practical application in living by faith is Praying the Names of God.  Here are some of the names by which God reveals Himself to us:

  • El Shaddai: “God Almighty.” Stresses God’s loving supply and comfort; offers His power as the Almighty one standing on a mountain and who corrects and chastens (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; Ex. 6:31; Ps. 91:1, 2).
  • El Elyon: “The Most High God.” Stresses God’s strength, sovereignty, and supremacy (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 9:2; Dan. 7:18, 22, 25).
  • El Roi: “The Living One who sees me.” God sees us when we are far from home; He meets us where we are and gives us a future and a hope. (Genesis 16:1-16.)
  • Yahweh Yireh: “The Lord will provide.” Stresses God’s provision for His people (Gen. 22:14).
  • Yahweh Nissi: “The Lord is my Banner.” Stresses that God is our rallying point and our means of victory; the One who fights for His people (Ex. 17:15).
  • Yahweh Shalom: “The Lord is Peace.” Points to the Lord as the means of our peace and rest (Jud. 6:24).
  • Yahweh Sabbaoth: “The Lord of Hosts.” A military figure portraying the Lord as the Commander of the armies of heaven (1 Sam. 1:3; 17:45).
  • Yahweh Ro’hi: “The Lord my Shepherd.” Portrays the Lord as the Shepherd who cares for His people as a shepherd cares for the sheep of his pasture (Ps. 23:1).
  • Yahweh Tsidkenu: “The Lord our Righteousness.” Portrays the Lord as the means and source of our righteousness (Jer. 23:6).
  • Yahweh Shammah: “The Lord is there.” Portrays the Lord’s personal presence (Ezek. 48:35).
  • Yahweh Elohim Israel: “The Lord, the God of Israel.” Identifies Yahweh as the God of Israel in contrast to the false gods of the nations (Jud. 5:3.; Isa. 17:6).

(For a more in-depth study, see J. Hampton Keathley’s article “The Names of God”).

When we pray the names of God, we take an honest look at where we’re at. We identify the need that we’re facing.  And then we choose which name of God speaks to our need.  We go to a passage of Scripture where God reveals Himself with that particular name, and we discover how and why God revealed Himself in that way for that particular need.  And then we come to Him with our need, in prayer, in conversation with Him, and we call Him by His name.

For example, if I’m in a place where I’m struggling in the middle of the battle, and I need to know that God is the One who fights the battle with and for me, I pray His name Yahweh Nissi (the Lord is my banner). If I’m in a place where I need God to provide for my need, emotional, physical, spiritual, I come to Him in prayer with His name Yahweh Yireh (the Lord provides).  His name is not some incantation.  His name is His character, and faith is a firm, resolute confidence in the character and nature of God… that God is who He says He is and that God does what He says He does.  And His names represent that reality.  So we pray in faith, praying the names of God.

Is there a name of God that is particularly meaningful for you right now?

Praying the Psalms

One of the spiritual disciples that the people of God have historically done is pray through the psalms. The psalms are a collection of songs that the people of God have sung and prayed through all of life’s ups and downs.  There are psalms of orientation that point us to the character of God as we praise Him for who He fully is.  There are psalms of disorientation that are sung and prayed as we cry out in confusion and despair, as life is difficult.  And there are psalms of reorientation that re-center and refocus us to the character and nature of God.  In all of the psalms, the focal point is the character and nature of God.  As we pray the psalms, fixating and focusing on the character of God, here’s what happens: “Our perseverance is rooted in His promise which changes our perspective.” When we pray the psalms, we see His great promises, which are based in His great character.  And that gives us perseverance and changes our perspective.

Think for a moment about the Old Testament prophet Jonah.  When he was in the belly of the whale, a definite place of crisis, in chapter 2 he cries out to God in prayer. But here’s the deal… his prayer was not a spontaneous, original prayer.  He prayed the psalms. Every part of his prayer in chapter 2 can be traced back to one of the psalms. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever come to God in spontaneous conversation, but it does mean that God has given us these powerfully beautiful psalms to root us in who He is, what He’s done, and what He will do on behalf of His people.

Psalm 1, the very first psalm in the psalter, roots us in the practice of praying the psalms.  The very first psalm orients us to the character of God. The psalms help our roots go deep… and when the droughts come, we know where to find nourishment. When the storms come, our roots are deep within the bedrock of God’s character. As we pray the psalms, we go deep with God.

Take a psalm or a couple of verses of a psalm each day.  Read it slowly and meditate upon it. Pray through it. Journal through it. How does the psalm reveal the character and nature of God?  How does your life relate to the confession and cry of the psalmist? How do the character, nature, and promise of God change your perspective? See your life in light of what God is saying about Himself through the psalm. Give it a try… prayer through a psalm or a couple verses from a psalm this week and see how your vision and view of God is shaped as you live in those seasons of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  This is a key way in which we can take serious the character of God by taking serious His promise and perseverance.

The Perfect Wrath of God

Strange title, huh? The perfect wrath of God? For most of us, we wouldn’t mention perfect and wrath in the same sentence. Yet in God’s character, He can perfectly hold and exercise His great love and His great wrath. A couple of years ago I was at a prayer retreat reading, meditating, and praying through Colossians 1 where Paul contrasts the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of light.

The kingdom of darkness, the kingdom controlled by Satan, who is the great enemy of God and the people of God and who longs to steal God’s glory. Therefore, Satan’s kingdom is a counterfeit kingdom. His mode of operation is the great lie and the great deception. And people buy into the lie… they believe that life can be found outside of who God really is, what He has given, and what He has done for us. Jesus has come to rescue us from the lie, deception, and counterfeit kingdom. And through His great work on the cross where He absorbed and exhausted the wrath due us, we’ve been brought back to God in the kingdom of life and light. In contrasting these two kingdoms, God’s perfect wrath began to make sense. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on that day:

Perhaps the wrath of God is passive and active. God’s wrath is passive in that He allows us and even turns us over to our desire to believe the lie.  This is what Paul says in Romans 1.  And God’s wrath is also active. God will actively judge and destroy those who actively propagate the lie, the great deception, the great counterfeit… not only because of God’s rightful kingship and “glory,” but because His glory is His presence.  And His presence is our greatest good, our greatest joy, and our greatest gift of life. Anything that robs God’s created humanity from living in His presence and experiencing the gift of Himself will be crushed and destroyed in His perfect wrath… not because He is a “narcissist” for Himself, but because He knows that our greatest hope is found in His presence, His light, His love, and His kingdom.

I know that’s intense and a bit wordy (welcome to my brain). But God’s perfect wrath is part of His perfect character because He will remove anything that stands in the way and robs us of our opportunity to see and experience Him for who He fully is… because God and His glory is our greatest good and our everlasting joy.

Think for a moment about your perception and view of God. Does it include the perfect love of God and the perfect wrath of God? Even if we can’t figure out how love and wrath work in concert with each other, in God’s great wisdom and perfection, somehow they do. Remember, your thoughts on God (i.e., your theology) are your most important thoughts because they determine everything else in your life.

Profiles of the Spiritually Immature & Mature

This past Sunday I preached on Hebrews 5:11-6:20 in our Hebrews: the Supremacy of Christ series.  This passage is one of the most controversial theological passages in the New Testament.  The interpretive challenge centers around a possible loss of salvation.  But after studying it, praying through it, and preaching it, I think the heart of the passage points to growing in our life with Jesus move than losing our life with Jesus.  It’s an exhortation and encouragement to keep growing in our life with Jesus as we move from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Immaturity is marked by Impatient Pragmatism & Shallow Faith. The American Church is rife with these two characteristics.  Impatient pragmatism says, “If following Jesus doesn’t bring immediate results for me right now, I’m done with it.”  The spiritually immature tend to treat Jesus like a personal servant rather than the Lord of the Universe.  Here’s the way Michael Horton explains it in Christless Christianity:

[In the American Church] everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive.  If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instruction and motivation can become a better person, we need only a life coach, not a redeemer.  Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups. My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for “relevant” quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms. God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped, and trusted. Jesus is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us. Salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God’s judgment by god himself.  And the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be. (compilation of quotes from pp. 15-19)

When life gets hectic and the world gets hostile, the spiritually immature tend to wither because of a shallow faith.  We have a tendency to dumb down the Christian faith, not wanting to talk about the more difficult, complex, and mysterious things of God and faith because they are difficult.  And we like it easy.  But the problem is, when life gets tough, easy doesn’t cut it.  Easy doesn’t last.  Easy and shallow faith wilts and withers.  This is the profile of the spiritually immature.

Spiritual Maturity is marked by Patient Perseverance & Deep Faith. Those who are spiritually mature persevere whatever comes their way with patience.  Here’s why: their deep faith has nurtured them and matured them to understand and know more deeply the character and nature of God.  People who are spiritually mature have a resiliency and a resolve in their life with Jesus because they believe in the gospel and promises of God. They want to understand more and more deeply who Jesus fully is and what He has done on their behalf.  They want to mine the depths of God’s Word.  And in that process of going and growing deep with Jesus, they develop deep roots that keep them from wilting and withering when the storms and droughts invariably come along.  This is the profile of the spiritually mature.

Where are you on the spiritual continuum of immaturity to maturity?  Where are those areas of your life where you seem stuck, unwilling to move forward? How can you see Jesus Christ for who He fully is, the crucified and risen Lord, and grow in your depth, love, and worship for what He has fully done on your behalf?  Keep going and keep growing in your life with Jesus as you move from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity.


My Good Friday Prayer

My prayer this Good Friday, April 2, 2010…

Jesus, as we come tonight to celebrate You and Your willingness to wear the crown of shame, we do it with great joy because we know that it is finished and you are now wearing the crown of glory.  Might we come to You tonight with our friends and family knowing that You are great and we are free.  Might we come to You tonight and re-live the gospel, the good news, that You became our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.  Might we come to You tonight and be forever changed because You are the Supreme One and to You is due all glory, honor, and worship.  Thank You Lord Jesus, our Great King.

* The picture is the crown of broken glass from Northshore’s Good Friday service.  Here’s what Christina Bothel, the crown’s designer, wrote about it: “This collage of glass illustrates the glory and the pain of the cross. The pieces of glass can be an image of brokenness and pain but also of light and glory. The glass on the crown is clear, pure, and full of light. Glory is found in both… in the light that shines through our brokenness and in the celebration of purity. But even in the celebration of purity there is the remnant of suffering.”

Passion Week (Good Friday): Crown for Crown

“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9

Tonight is the night… the night where we experience the exchange of crowns.  We begin with the crown of shame, the woven thorns piercing the brow of God.  But we lean into and look forward to the crown of glory, the radiant splendor that King Jesus is given because of His obedience and great sacrifice. Tonight we fully enter into the tension of these two crowns fully knowing how the Great Story ends.  I look forward to seeing you tonight at our Good Friday services (6:30 or 8 pm).

Crown for crown, we’ll exchange
Crown for crown and Name for name
One of life and one of shame
Crown for crown, we’ll exchange

That crown of thorns
That He wears upon His brow
Was meant for me
But my Savior wears it now
Painful crown, full of shame
For it’s written with my name

That crown of life
That was only meant for Him
He gave to me
When He took away my sin
Joyful crown, without shame
For it’s written with my name

From “Crown for Crown” by Guy Gray

Passion Week (Thursday): The Power of the Cross

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” Hebrews 2:14-15

As we saw yesterday, the cross is scandalous.  But as we discover today, the cross is powerful.  As we near Good Friday, we revel in the fact that this cross of death becomes the place of life.  “High King of Heaven, my victory won” because this King, through His death, pronounced death dead and the dead alive through and with Him.  Because the Divine became human, disillusionment becomes triumph and death becomes life. This is the powerful truth of the cross, and it is this great truth that has set us free.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.