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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Devotions for Week 2 of Sermon on the Mount: Spiritual Poverty & Holy Mourning

Read my sermon here
 Day 1 Devotions
Is He?

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Psalm 46:1

We live in an age that encourages us not only to prepare for every eventuality, but to
insure against every eventuality as well. We build a house and insure it against burning down. We invest in possessions and insure them against being stolen. We pursue a healthy lifestyle and insure ourselves for when we fall ill. We earn a living and invest in policies to insure an income for when we stop working. If we can, we surround ourselves with high walls, burglar bars, alarms and armed response personnel. None of these is necessarily bad and might even be good stewardship of our resources, except that……… our trust can end up being primarily in these things and not in our God. Who or what do you trust in for your present and future protection? Where do you look for strength? Who or what determines whether you sleep peacefully?

Many of us need to learn what the Psalmist discovered, but we can only accept the following truths from a place of spiritual poverty. Firstly, real peace giving refuge is not to be found in fortresses, but in God. The only safe place to be is in God. Secondly, notice the verb is….He is our refuge, not He will be or might be, but He is, here and now and always. He is never distant or withdrawn, He is with us. Thirdly, the God who is a refuge is our refuge. You and I can say: “God is my refuge.”

“God is our refuge and strength.” Is He your refuge and strength? Beware of imitations, the things mentioned in the first paragraph, becoming idols that give you a misplaced sense of peace and strength. If you lose all those things tomorrow (and how does that possibility make you feel?), God will still be God and your refuge and strength would remain unchanged.

Thou seest my feebleness;
Jesu, be thou my power,
My help, and refuge in distress,
My fortress and my tower.
Give me to trust in thee,
Be thou my sure abode;
My horn, and rock, and buckler be,
My Saviour and my God. (296)

Week 2 Day 2 Devotions

Do You Want To?

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears
will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Isaiah 30:21

Just as when we get married we surrender a certain lifestyle in favour of another, so too when we are born again we are invited to surrender our old lifestyle in favour of a new and better one, the one described in the Sermon on the Mount. The question is, do you want to live this way? Perhaps your answer is: “Yes, but how or where do I start?” That is certainly a spiritually poor way to begin this journey. Draw comfort from the idea that we don’t have to learn this lifestyle, so much as admit our need and desire for it and then listen for our Father’s guiding voice.

Commenting on the above verse, Wesley says: “Thou shalt hear the voice of God's word and Spirit behind thee - a metaphor borrowed from shepherds, who used to follow their sheep, and recall them when they go out of the way.” God will follow you and guide you as you seek to walk in His way.

A little boy came running to his mother, shouting, “Mother, I am nine feet tall.” His mother responded, “Don’t talk such nonsense.” “But,” he said, “I really am nine feet tall. I measured myself.” “Well, how did you measure yourself?” asked his mother. “I took off my shoe and measured myself with that. It is the same size as my foot, and I really am nine feet.”

 When we move from our standard to God’s standard (from our measure to God’s measure) regarding how we should live, and then seek to walk in it, this wonderful promise of Isaiah 30:21 can be fulfilled in our lives. In this way God, by His Spirit, makes us what Jesus teaches us to be.

O do thou always warn my soul of evil near;
When to the right or left I turn,
The voice still let me hear:
“Come back! This is the way! Come back and walk herein!”

O may I hearken and obey, and shun the paths of sin! (296)

Week 2 Day 3 Devotions

Know Yourself

“The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18:11

Just like the Pharisee, we often like to stand apart or to separate ourselves from others. Sometimes we are, like the Pharisee, aware of the sin in others and perhaps even thankful that we are “not like them.” But who or what are you like? What do others see in you that they are thankful they do not see in themselves? Read the last sentence again and spend some time in quiet and honest reflection.

One day, after a gospel meeting in a prison, the chief of chaplains of the prisons was discussing with the preacher the wonderful response by the prisoners to the message of the Gospel: "When you deal with prisoners, you do not need to persuade them that they are sinners. Their imprisonment is a proof of it. But there are many out of jail who should be in, and because they are out they argue all is well with them and they need no Savior."

Is everything well with you? “How goes it with your soul” is a question John Wesley encouraged the early Methodist people to ask of each other. Luke says that Jesus told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else and in his notes Wesley comments: “he spake this parable - not to hypocrites; the Pharisee here mentioned was no hypocrite, no more than an outward adulterer: but he sincerely trusted in himself that he was righteous, and accordingly told God so, in the prayer which none but God heard. The publican standing afar off would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven - touched with shame.”

Do you know yourself in the way the tax collector knew himself?

Might I in thy sight appear,
As the publican distressed,
Stand, not daring to draw near,
Smite on my unworthy breast,
Groan the sinner’s only plea,
God, be merciful to me!

Week 2 Day 4 Devotions

Heart Religion

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:10

This verse, in accordance with all of Scripture, reminds us that it is the heart that needs to be in our religion. Wesley comments: “for with the heart, not the understanding only, man believeth to righteousness - so as to obtain justification. And with the mouth confession is made - so as to obtain final salvation. Confession here implies the whole of outward, as believing does the root of all inward, religion.”

Eugene Petersen’s Message translation of the Bible conveys the exuberance of this verse: “with your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me!" ” What Petersen calls “setting right” is what Wesley calls “justification.” Justification is the judicial act of God, by which He pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law and as conformed to all its demands. In addition to the pardon of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law. It involves the crediting to the believer by God Himself of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Justification is not the forgiveness of a person without righteousness, but a declaration that the person possesses a righteousness which perfectly and for ever satisfies the law, namely, Christ's righteousness. The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Paraphrased from Easton’s Bible Dictionary)

Believing this good news, not with your head but with a spiritually poor and mourning heart is the beginning of inward, Sermon on the Mount type religion from which outward, Sermon on the Mount type religion cannot help but flow.

Who in heart on thee believes,
He th’ atonement now receives,
He with joy beholds thy face,
Triumphs in thy pard’ning grace 

Week 2 Day 5 Devotions

The Way Back to God

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

The way back to God has always been and still is, through sacrifice. What can we bring as a sacrifice to our God who in Christ sacrificed Himself for us?

 In the context of the times when David wrote this Psalm, he was making the discovery that God is happier with a heart that mourns for sin than with a sinner’s perfect bull bleeding under the priest’s knife. Wesley says of this verse: “a broken spirit is of more value than many sacrifices.” God seems to use broken things. Someone has pointed out that it takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to produce rain, broken grain to give bread and broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is the broken Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns with greater power
than ever. But not only is our broken heart the way back to God, it is God’s way into us; God says through the prophet Isaiah: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”(57:15)

Our brokenness is the crack, the opening through which Jesus can enter into our situation. While this applies in all the areas and ways in which we can be broken in this life (draw comfort from this truth) our context is spiritual poverty and holy mourning. Psalm 51 is a model of holy mourning in a spiritually poor heart that seeks to return to the Lord. Verses 1-6 model honest and heartfelt sorrow for our sins, throwing ourselves at God’s loving and compassionate mercy. Verses 7-12 model pleading for forgiveness, as opposed to just asking for it. Verses 13-19 reflect a commitment to walking in God’s way in the future. The key to honest turning back is our text verse.

O that I could repent!
With all my idols part,
And to thy gracious eye present
An humble, contrite heart!
An heart with grief oppressed
For having grieved my God;
A troubled heart, that cannot rest

Till sprinkled with thy blood! (99)

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