“I Didn’t Know God”

At first when he answered the phone I thought it was a joke. I had reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in ten years. But he sounded nothing like the friend I used to know. I even told him it didn’t sound like him. Of course, that made things awkward for a bit. As we did small talk I went back over my phone and reviewed how we had reconnected. Same phone number. Same Facebook page. Same guy. And yet, totally different.     

I slowly was starting to accept the reality that I really was talking to my old friend when he clarified, “You know Cameron, we really haven’t talked in a long time. A lot has happened since then.” He continued, “I think I got saved 4 years ago.” I was shocked.

This is the guy I went to Bible college with. This is the guy who had wanted to preach his whole life. This is the guy who traveled on evangelistic teams to churches and spent his summers sharing the gospel with young people.      

He went on to describe for me his frustration at repeatedly trying to preach, but never being satisfied with it. He came to the point where he gave up on preaching entirely. But that bitterly low point of frustration caused him to realize something incredible. “I didn’t know God,” he confessed to me. “I knew about God. I knew about the Bible. I was drawn to the experience of preaching and the feeling that came with it. I think that is the same reason I was drawn to evangelism. But I didn’t have a real relationship with God.” 

He went on to describe for me how he started sincerely praying to and seeking God. And God changed him. Radically. So much so, he was a different person. Other people in his life began to take notice. “My wife asked me what had changed,” he said. “I hadn’t said anything about it at first because I didn’t know what to make of it.” 

Our unexpectedly awkaward conversation had changed into a mutually encouraging moment as he began to share with me the lessons God had taught him since his conversion. I apologized for being rude, and he accepted the apology, and we had a great time catching up for a bit.

When I got off the phone, I sat on our couch and stared out a window for several minutes. It was so stunning, yet so refreshing and glorious to see God radically transform one man’s life. This is, in fact, how the Scripture describes salvation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many people in this world gravitate towards religion for the experience. They confuse the emotional fervor of a thrilling worship service or shared moments of religious experience with a genuine relationship with the living God. Unfortunately, many church leaders today are guilty of encouraging this kind of behavior. It is a spiritually draining, inadequate substitute for your soul’s satisfaction. If you are in one of those categories, or find yourself in one of those kinds of churches, you can be free from the emptiness that comes with religion apart from Christ. Look to him. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  Only he can satisfy the desire in your soul for something better, because he is the “something better” you are thirsting for. 

~CP

How God Kills Pride

When I was a jr. higher in youth group, God used a particular passage of Scripture to grab my attention and strengthen my faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

These two verses clearly teach us salvation is not a work we can do, but a gift of God obtained by faith. God forgives us by grace through faith so we would not boast in our own wisdom, determination, will-power, goodness, or anything else we suppose could earn us forgiveness with God.

It has taken me much longer to realize God intends to kill my pride with this same truth, not only in my salvation, but also in my new life in Christ. Read carefully the very next verse. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (vs. 10). Even as we cannot boast in our salvation, neither can we boast in the works we do after we place faith in Christ, because we are “his workmanship.” The works we do as believers “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This work of God in us by grace through faith kills pride in any credit we may take for the good works we do as Christians.

We need to remind ourselves daily as believers that the starting point of our salvation, trusting Jesus by grace through faith, is also the lifeline of our daily sanctification. Why? “So that no one may boast.”

This truth can make a big difference in how we interact with unbelievers. It humbles us to realize God is working in and through us by his grace. It also gives us common ground with others as we call them to repentance. The good I do is all of Christ. And the good that an unbeliever can become is all of Christ. It’s the same foundation from start to finish, and it all exalts Jesus Christ. This is how God graciously kills any pride we may take in the good we have done.

~CP

Coronavirus and Christ (John Piper)

I wanted to write a blog post addressing how a Christian navigates our current Coronavirus crisis. Such a discussion is profitable not only for Christians, but also for anyone who is looking for a steady rock in the shifting sands of uncertainty. These truly unprecedented times have caused many of us to think more deeply about life than we otherwise would have.

Thankfully, John Piper penned and published a book in just 14 days that addresses those issues. I heartily recommend this FREE (digital or audio download) resource to you and anyone you know. At just around 100 pages, it is short, understandable, yet profoundly deep. Click here to download a copy today.

~CP

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 15

In an effort to emphasize the season of Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating it all through the month of November. Earlier I explained my 21 Days of Giving Thanks challenge (which you can read about here). Today let’s give thanks for hope.

Day 15 – Give Thanks for Eternal Hope

Life is hard, incredibly hard. It can be laden with sorrow, discouragement, and despair. Ironically, in a culture that is increasingly liberalized and focused on “casting off the shackles,” dystopian stories abound in both print and media. According to the modern narrative, we should end up happy. But we are not. We are a society that is hopeless and sin-sick. We are bent on pleasing ourselves, and we have reaped the consequences of shaking our fist in the face of God. Then, after living life “my way,” all we have is death.

But in the midst of the despairing attitude of our current age God breathes life and hope. Romans 15:13 says,

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Our God is not the God of despair, but of hope. He promises eternal life to all those who lay down their arms of opposition to him, repent of their sin, and cast their souls entirely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for salvation. While Christ paid for our sins on the cross, he also verified the authenticity of his sacrfice by rising from the dead. Our hope is not a dead hope, but a living hope, centered on the crucified and risen Lord.

You can give thanks this Thanksgiving because of this eternal hope in Jesus Christ. All who trust him have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4) This world will never fully satisfy you because it is not meant to satisfy you. Some day believers who see Christ face-to-face will experience hope fulfilled.

Challenge: Thank God for the eternal hope available to all in Christ Jesus. If you do not have this hope in Christ, turn from your sin to the Savior and make him your true hope.

CP

21 Days of Giving Thanks – Day 8

In an effort to emphasize the season of Thanksgiving, I’m celebrating it all through the month of November. Earlier I explained my 21 Days of Giving Thanks challenge, which you can read about here. Last week on Friday we gave thanks for the gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ. Today let’s focus on giving thanks for the mission that springs from the gospel.

Day 8 – Give Thanks for the Great Commission

We live in a very confused society. Post-modernism has questioned everything from authority, to family structures, to economics, to religion (and more). The result is many people struggle to find purpose or meaning in life. After all, if we are a cosmic accident, or there are multiple valid religions and ways to heaven, who really cares how you get there?

But Jesus lays out a very different perspective. He made the radical truth claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) That’s exclusive, narrow, and restrictive. But what it actually does is swing the door wide open to your true purpose and meaning in life. For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ alone as Savior, he gives them a Commission for life. 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:19-20

If you do not know Christ and his purpose for your life, I encourage you to call out to him today. Ask him to save you from your sin and transform you into a new creation made ready to serve him.

If you do know Christ, has this Great Commission become mundane to you? When a visiting missionary in church asks you to turn to Matthew 28, do you think, “Here we go again”? Or have you embraced with joy the high calling God has placed on your life? You have purpose and meaning, a mission to fulfill, a goal to aim for. Give thanks!

Challenge: Thank God for the clear direction he has given you in this life. Take time to carefully evaluate your weekly schedule, purposefully altering it to make the Great Commission your greatest priority.

CP

Can You Count the Stars?

Recently I was reading a Bible story book with my three-year old daughter, Evelyn. God tells Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. So, naturally, Evelyn started counting. She found 17 stars. How many stars can you count in the sky? None of us can count the stars. Based on the estimates scientists throw out there, I highly doubt any of them have taken the time to try. And yet, even though we fail that simple little challenge, for some reason we still buy into the lie that God doesn’t understand us, or know us, or care about us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So far I’ve been talking in these blogs about what we learn from the fact that God is our Creator. Here’s today’s truth: God’s creation teaches me that God intimately understands me. As Creator, God knows everything and is everywhere. His great knowledge comes from his exalted position on high from which he sees all (Ps. 14:2). Meditate on this gem for a while, it’s one of my favorites:

“He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.”
~Psalm 147:4-5

God knows how many stars there are because he made them all! And he made you and me. God’s unlimited knowledge of us can be either a comfort or a conviction, depending on what kind of a person you are. The Psalms divide all of humanity into two simple categories- the righteous and the wicked.

God Knows the Wicked

God tells us he “notes mischief and vexation” and will act justly on behalf of the fatherless (Ps. 10:14a; 21:8). God has choice words for those who abuse other people, a topic I will write about in much further detail later on. God takes sin against other people seriously, and so should you. It is no laughing matter. God will not overlook sin; he will judge the wicked.

God Knows the Righteous

On the other hand, for those who come to God through Jesus Christ, in faith believing and confessing their sins, he gives them the right to be his children (Jn. 1:12-13). And it is a wonderful thing to be a child of God. Here’s why:

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
~Psalm 103:13-14

Psalm 139 develops this unique theme extensively. God’s knowledge of us is personal (vv. 1-2), thorough (vs. 2), unbound by time (vs. 4), providential (vs. 5), and beyond our ability to comprehend (vs. 6). As Jonah found out, God’s knowledge of us is inescapable (vv. 7-13).

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Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

Isn’t wonderful to know you are understood? In contrast, how awkward is it when you feel as if you can’t connect with someone? God understands you like no one else. He knows your weaknesses, temptations, limitations and frustrations. He knows how to compassionately bear with you during your greatest wins and biggest failures. That is a comforting truth for today, but it also offers hope for the future. In Christ, the righteous need not fear in the day of judgment (Ps. 1:6; 11:4c-5a; 17:2a).

A Matter of Life and Death

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Because God’s knowledge of us and plans for us are unbound by time, God tells us he has wonderful plans for us even in the womb (vv. 4, 15-16). God views life in the womb as his divine quilting project. Destroying his delicate and beautiful “quilts” is murder. We have no right to interfere. God even views us as taking sides with the wicked when we abuse life in the womb. Most of my readers would heartily agree with me on this, but if you disagree with me, I gently submit to you this question- can you count the stars? Do you call them all by name? If God created and named every star, how much more does he care about every baby in the womb? I encourage you to click on the passages I reference and see what God has said.

Childlike Trust

On a more positive note, God can deliver you from the “hidden traps” (Ps. 142:3) that lie in your path today. But, for him to show us the way, we need to turn to him like a child. We need to submit our plans and our way to his sovereign care. We need to confess any sin that has put us in the camp of the wicked. We need to relinquish our “rights” that we cling to, and instead trust God’s Word. Then we will find understanding, forgiveness, and grace. God’s creation teaches me that God intimately understands me. If he does, then I can trust that he knows what is best.

C.P.

More than a Cosmic Accident

Are you a cosmic accident? Is your purpose nothing more than to exist for a few passing moments on this earth, only to fade away with the mass of humanity? If so, why in the world does this life even matter? If God is not in the picture, these questions leave us hopeless. The Christian worldview gives us so much more to live for. It says that God created you for a higher purpose. You are not an accident. You are here for a reason. And you can know that reason because God has communicated it to you. Your Creator is speaking to you in his Word and revealing himself in creation.

Last time we learned that God reveals himself through the creation of the heavens. But we can also learn about God by considering his creation of the earth. The earth calls us to consider God’s kingship and his ability to deliver us.

The Earth Establishes God’s Kingship

Because God created the earth, he both owns and rules as king over all it contains (Ps. 24:1-2; 50:10-11; 74:12). Unlike us, and unlike the ancient pagan gods, he does not need the earth to sustain Himself (Ps. 50:12-13). The survival of every king in the history of the world depended on their ability to rule and protect their kingdom. Even a king has his limits. But not so with God—he does not need us or any other part of his created order. And yet, even though God is totally self-sustaining, he is the God of salvation. He chooses to stoop down and deliver us.

The Earth Exhibits God’s Deliverance

Earlier this year in the month of May the London art gallery tried to feature an exhibit called “Majestic Splendor” by Lee Bul. Notice I said, “tried.” The artwork consisted of rotting fish decorated with sequins and beads, sealed in small plastic bags (for obvious reasons). Apparently the compounds these fish emit can easily combust, and that is just what happened. The fish combusted, causing a minor fire in the London art gallery. The gallery canceled the exhibit.

It seems like these days people will put just about anything on display. And while some people may be fascinated with zany exhibits in the London art gallery, God is concerned with putting his saving character on display. The earth is his display case. Notice Psalm 74:12,

“Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.”

God wants to display your life on earth as an example of his saving character. As Creator and King over the earth, his art exhibit of your life takes the “best in show.”

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Because God delivers us, we can have confidence no matter what kinds of physical threats surround us. He controls it all.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
~Psalm 46:1-3 (cf. 96:6-9)

When God delivers Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, the sea, mountains, and the Jordan are all asked why they “flee…turn back…and skip…like rams” and “lambs.”

The earth “tremble[s]…at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.”
~Psalm 114:3-8

In these verses, the earth visibly responds to the presence of God as if in fear. We can trust God’s control and ability to save in spite of our smallness in his creation, because everything is small compared to God. Everything trembles before the Creator King. 

Consider Jesus

For just a moment, journey out of the Psalms with me to the gospels. Think of the disciples who were with Jesus in a small fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of a life-threatening storm they wake Jesus with the cry,

“‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”
~Mark 4:38-41

It was not some cosmic accident that caused those disciples to get caught in the storm. And the storms in your life are not a cosmic accident, either. This same Jesus is tenderly calling to you today, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He is the King and Creator of the earth, and he can calm the storm in your life. Perhaps you have ignored Jesus for a long time. Or perhaps you have been running to him daily. No matter what your circumstances, there is comfort and conviction in the fact that the Creator King is purposefully working in the lives of every person on this planet. We each must face this question: “Will I turn to him? Will I trust him?” The answer to that question will make all the difference in the world.

C.P.