Prone to Wander

Today at church we sang the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  Honestly, I have lately come to appreciate the older hymns much more.  While there are some great modern worship songs, it is hard to find modern songs with theology and Christian teaching as deep as the older hymns.

One stanza of the hymn above always makes me stop and think and pray.  It goes like this:

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Wow!

This one stanza has so much in it.  The central image is one of wandering away from God.  I know I’m not alone in this; it seems to be an ongoing battle to keep my mind and heart focused on God.  It is all too easy for me to get caught up in other things, to get sidetracked by busy-ness, or to have some reason to begin to pull away from God.

I am truly “prone to wander” and “prone to leave the God I love.”  Notice, it is not about being unsaved, as we still love God.  But there are so many things competing for our hearts.  Some are good, but unnecessary, while some are sinful. (See Hebrews 12:1, which speaks of “weights” and seems to set them as something separate from “sin.”)

The wonderful news is that we have God as our shepherd.  Isaiah 53:6 says that “[a]ll we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (ESV)  While this primarily refers to our state prior to repentance, we know from Psalm 23 that we are still like sheep.  We are told that God’s rod and staff should comfort us (Psalm 23:4).  One of the primary purposes of a shepherd’s rod was to guide sheep and keep them from wandering.  Oh, how we need God’s guidance every day!

The solution is in the first part of the stanza.  We are “daily constrained” to be debtors to God’s grace.  God’s grace is not something that we need only at salvation, but we rely on it every day to keep us walking in God’s ways (see Titus 2:11-12).

The hymn writer asks God for the only solution:  We need God, in and with His goodness, to bind our wandering heart to Himself like a “fetter,” a chain used to restrain someone.  We need to be restrained and kept “chained” to God, and only He can do it.

We have great promises in Scripture that God will keep us for Himself.  “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)  “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)  “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24)

May we make this stanza of the hymn our prayer.

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Sunshine Blogger Award Nomination

I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by Sarah Perkins at bewitchinglybroken.wordpress.com.  Thanks for the nomination, Sarah!

Here are the rules:

1) Thank the person who nominated you.

2) Answer the questions from the person who nominated you.

3) Nominate some other bloggers for this award.

4) Write the same amount of questions for the bloggers you have nominated.

5) Notify the bloggers you have nominated.

The question I was asked was: What are you most proud of?

I would have to say I am most proud of the life I have built with my beautiful bride, Chrissy, and our two wonderful children.  We have come a long way since we got married a little over 10 years ago (and even longer since we met in high school almost 14 and 1/2 years ago)!  I do have to qualify this by saying that everything we have built together is a wonderful gift from God (see James 1:17), so all glory goes to Him alone.

The bloggers that I would like to nominate for this award are:

Shawn Wilson

Brett Maragni

My question for you guys is: What is the most important thing you have learned regarding following Christ?

Book Review – “Can I Have Joy in My Life?” by R. C. Sproul

I am of the mind that Christians should be joyful people.  This is certainly an area I am still working on in my own life, so I like to read anything I can get my hands on relating to the topic of joy.

Can I Have Joy in My Life? by R. C. Sproul is a short, but great, read on the topic coming in at 66 pages.

Sproul begins by explaining the difference between the Bible’s view of deep, abiding joy and the world’s view of fleeting happiness.  He even points out that “[b]ased on the biblical teaching, I would go so far as to say that it is the Christian’s duty, his moral obligation, to be joyful.  That means that the failure of a Christian to be joyful is a sin, that unhappiness and a lack of joy are, in a certain way, manifestations of the flesh.” (pages 3-4).  While this may be hard hitting, I think it is a necessary reminder to those of us who follow Christ.  Through the rest of the book, Sproul provides a good explanation of how to maintain this joy.  Chapter 2 talks about maintaining joy in trials by looking ahead to our future with Christ.  Chapter 3 explains that the way to real joy is by ordering our lives accordingly, with Christ first, others next, and ourselves last (the acronym that spells JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself).  Chapter 4 reminds us that our greatest joy comes from salvation in Christ.  And chapter 5 instructs us on how to maintain joy, by continuing to abide in Christ, receiving His joy as our own.

I believe this book does a wonderful job of providing a theology of joy for the Christian.  It may not be the deepest look at the issue (it is not intended to be), but at such a quick read, I am sure it will be one that I will revisit as I feel myself needing a reminder of what it means to be joyful in Christ.

I would encourage anyone who wants to pursue joy in the Christian life to pick up this book.  You won’t regret it.

You can purchase the book from Ligonier ministries here or from Amazon here.

Note: I received this book as a PDF free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review, and will receive a hard copy as compensation for my review.

Draw Near to the Throne

Let’s face it.  We all have needs.  We all have struggles.  We all face trials and temptations that seem too great for us to handle.  Not a day goes by that we don’t realize that we are weak and we cannot do everything on our own.

For those of us who are followers of Jesus, however, we have something that others do not.  It’s something amazing, and yet it seems that it is something often neglected.  At least, I know that I neglect it more often than I should.

The advantage that we have over those who do not know Christ is the ability to pray to and be heard by the God of the universe every time we pray.  We have a loving Father who delights in us and longs to hear from us and help us.  Now, while those who do not know Christ may pray to God, He is under no obligation to answer the prayers of those who are not in Christ.  That is not to say that He never does; but the relationship is not there.  One verse says that “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29, ESV)  Again, when sinners call out to God in repentance, He absolutely hears them.  He can even choose to respond to other requests.  But the focus here is on the constant access to God, which is a privilege specific to believers.

And what a privilege it is!  Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we have access to the Father in prayer.  We also have Jesus as a high priest to intercede on our behalf (see Romans 8:34).  Imagine!  Christ Himself stands before God on behalf of you and me.  I love to know other people are praying and interceding for me.  But to know that Christ Himself does so should bring us to our knees in gratefulness.

Yet for some reason, we seem to forget this more often than not.  We tend to make prayer the thing we fall back on.  “Well, I’ve tried everything else and nothing has worked.  I guess I need to stop and pray that God would help me.” (I’ve said something like this more often than I care to remember.)  What should be our first priority often becomes our last resort.

But knowing that Christ intercedes for us and that we can have access to God should be very reassuring, as we know that Christ Himself struggled while on earth.  He faced stress and trials and was tempted, just like us, but never fell.  Let’s look at some passages to see this.

Hebrews 5:7 tells us that “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (ESV)  The pictures of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane which show Him serenely praying with a ray of light shining on Him really does not do justice to what happened.  He was praying “with loud cries and tears.”  Jesus was facing stress, just like us.  But He dealt with it the right way, by praying to God.

We also read this in Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (ESV)  Not only did Christ face trials, but also He faced temptation. Unlike us, however, he overcame.

What does this mean for us?  The next verse tells us: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)

Because Christ was tempted and tried, He knows how we feel.  We can approach God’s throne knowing that Christ understands and He intercedes to God on our behalf.  What wonderful grace!

No wonder Paul encouraged people to pray continually and with every need (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Philippians 4:6).

And as mentioned above, God is our Father.  He doesn’t just want to hear from us when we are in need.  He wants to hear from us at all times.  We should approach Him in need and to say thanks, when we are struggling with sorrow and to rejoice with Him in our joy.

Let’s make it our goal to make prayer a priority in our lives.

Book Review – The Purity Principle by Randy Alcorn

Nobody can deny that our culture is obsessed with sex.  It’s everywhere.  It has been elevated to idol status for many.  And this can cause issues for anyone who decides to make purity a priority in his or her life.

Several books have been written to help people (especially men) live lives of holiness and purity, such as Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) by Joshua Harris and Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker.  I recently finished another one that is short, but good.

The Purity Principle by Randy Alcorn comes in at 93 pages with an additional page of notes.  As such, it is a quick read (maybe taking an hour or two for most people).

It is a basic book covering the importance of purity and providing some strategies to help people remain pure.  While it is basic, that does not take away from the book.  Sometimes being reminded of the basics is the best thing that we can do for ourselves.

One thing I like about Alcorn is that he never pulls any punches.  This is evident in the explanation that he gives for what the purity principle is: “purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid.” (p. 16; italics in the original)  Basic?  Sure.  But who could forget a principle like that?  Sometime we are so used to the normal way of saying things that we need to hear it differently.  We have all heard that purity is holiness and impurity is sinfulness.  Or that purity pleases God while impurity grieves Him.  All of these things are true, but hearing it as Alcorn states it just sort of makes it hit home a little more.

Alcorn provides strategies in the book to help people overcome impurity, such as avoiding tempting situations, memorizing Scripture, and so on.  One thing he points out that I love is that the Bible’s first recommendation for avoiding impurity is to flee (see 1 Corinthians 6:18).  Alcorn puts it this way: “When it comes to sexual temptation, it pays to be a coward. He who hesitates (and rationalizes) is lost.  He who runs, lives.” (p. 53)  Amen!  We can all try to avoid temptation to impurity (which is harder and harder in our society), but if we are tempted, the only smart thing to do is run away.

The book is geared mainly toward men (although with more sexually explicit books and movies being advertised toward women, this book could help them, as well).  There is also a chapter for singles and a chapter for those who are married.

If you are looking for a good book for yourself or someone you know who needs help and encouragement in the area of purity, this would be a great investment.  While not the deepest treatment of the issue, it is nevertheless a great one, and at such a quick read, even those who normally don’t like reading can benefit from this book.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here, or from Randy Alcorn’s ministry page here.

Gladness from a good word.

Proverbs 12:25 says “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” (ESV)

Who hasn’t felt the weight of anxiety?  Who hasn’t felt the overwhelming burden of worrying about what is going on (or will go on, or might go on . . . maybe)?  I think we all struggle with worry sometimes.  Some of us struggle more than others.  As a matter of fact, some of us may catch ourselves not worrying, and then we worry about the fact that we aren’t worrying; we wonder what we are missing that should be making us worry but isn’t.

In reality, worry doesn’t help us at all.  I cannot think of a single time in my life where being anxious has actually helped me.  Even if what I was worrying about came true, leaving me feeling justified for worrying, the act of being anxious didn’t accomplish anything to help it; it just burdened me down more and robbed me of rest, peace, and joy before what I was worrying about occurred, leaving me weaker as I faced the issue.

The word of God is right.  Anxiety in our hearts weigh us down.  That’s why we are commanded “do not be anxious about anything.” (Philippians 4:6, ESV)  It is a command, not a suggestion.

Why is worrying so wrong?  Francis Chan points out in his book Crazy Love that worrying actually implies that we don’t believe God is sovereign.  We don’t believe He is in control.  So we think we have to worry and help Him, because He cannot handle it Himself.  When I first read that, it shocked me.  I never meant to say that I didn’t trust God or that I didn’t think He was sovereign and looking out for me.  But  the more I thought about it, the more I realized that is what I was doing.

I wish I could say that I have this under control in my life, but I don’t.  By God’s grace, however, I do feel that I have been doing better.  His Spirit convicts me when I am worrying and I have been doing better about repenting and handing it all to Him.  But I am still growing in this area.

But rather than focusing on the issue of anxiety alone, I want to look at the latter part of the proverb above, which I think is very interesting.  While anxiety weighs a person down, “a good word makes him glad.”  I think the most immediate application means that when we hear good news regarding what we have been worrying about, or when we are given assurance about something rather than hearing things that make us worry, we are glad.

Perhaps someone has been worrying about news from the doctor.  The anxiety weighs that person down.  But then the phone rings and the nurse from the doctor’s office informs the person that all the test results have come back normal.  The anxiety lifts, and the person’s heart is made glad.

While the above application is true (and again, probably the most immediate understanding), I believe there is another application.  A more certain good word.  A promise we can cling to no matter what is happening in our lives.  I believe this promise will stand firm even if what we have been worrying about occurs.

It is found in Romans 8:28-29.  The verses read, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (ESV)  If we are followers of Christ, we have the best word: No matter what happens in life, we know that ultimately all things work together for good.

Now, let’s not misapply this.  That doesn’t mean that all things are good.  That doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen to us.  But it means that eventually, whether in this life or in eternity, all things will work together for good.  And that ultimate good is conformity to Christlikeness.  God’s ultimate goal for us is to be like Jesus.  And that should be our ultimate goal, too.

With this in mind, we should certainly be known as people who don’t worry.  We have the promise of God’s peace in our lives if we pray rather than worry in Philippians 4.  We know that God is looking out for us and providing for us in Matthew 6.  And Romans 8 tells us that all things ultimately work for the good of being made like Jesus.  Romans 8 goes on to tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

What a “good word.”  What a great word!  We should be glad and joyful as a result of this word.  We should maintain an attitude of joy as a result of knowing that no matter what happens, we are in His care and He is planning things out for our good.

If you are worrying today, take this verse to heart.  Stop being weighed down by anxiety and listen to the word of God, which has the power to make you glad.

Tyndale Rewards

I just wanted to make a quick post about a site Chrissy pointed out to me.

It is called Tyndale Rewards.  If you live in the United States, like receiving free Christian books, and don’t mind doing surveys, it may be a wonderful site for you to check out.

You can earn points in various ways (taking surveys, signing up for newsletters, doing reviews of books published by Tyndale, etc.).  Once you earn the points, you can then redeem them for free books.  Shipping is free for the items you receive by redeeming the points, too!

Here is a link to the site: Tyndale Rewards.

If you are interested in signing up, I can get you a code that will give you 25 points automatically.  I will just need to email it to you.

God bless!