VIDEO Thank you Lord for….

Jan 8, 2011

From Beautiful Exchange, Hillsong 2010.

“Thank You for Your kindness
Thank You for Your mercy
Thank You for the cross
Thank You for the price You paid

Thank You for salvation
Thank You for unending grace
Thank You for Your hope
Thank You for this life You gave

There is no one like You
There is no one like You, God
All my hope is in You
Jesus, Jesus

Thank You for Your promise
Thank You for Your favor
And thank You for Your love
And everything You’ve done for me

There is no one like You
There is no one like You, God
All my hope is in You
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

To Your name
We give all the glory
To Your name
We give all the praise

You’re alive
Our God everlasting
So let Your face shine on us

There is no one like You
There is no one like You, God
And all my hope is in You
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

To Your name
We give all the glory
To Your name
We give all the praise

You’re alive
Our God everlasting
So let Your face shine on us

To Your name
We give all the glory
To Your name
We give all the praise

You’re alive
Our God everlasting
So let Your face shine on us
So let Your face shine on us
So let Your face shine on us”

Ask The Author

study group
We have the mind of Christ. —1 Corinthians 2:16

Over the years I’ve been part of various book groups. Typically, several friends read a book and then we get together to discuss the ideas the author has put forward. Inevitably, one person will raise a question that none of us can answer. And then someone will say, “If only we could ask the author.” A popular new trend in New York City is making that possible. Some authors, for a hefty fee, are making themselves available to meet with book clubs.

How different it is for those of us who gather to study the Bible. Jesus meets with us whenever we get together. No fees. No scheduling conflicts. No travel expenses. Furthermore, we have the Holy Spirit to guide our understanding. One of the last promises Jesus made to His disciples was that God would send the Holy Spirit to teach them (John 14:26).

The Author of the Bible is not limited by time or space. He can meet with us at any time and any place. So whenever we have a question, we can ask with the assurance that He will answer—though perhaps not according to our timetable.

God wants us to have the mind of the Author (1 Cor. 2:16) so that through the teaching of the Spirit we will comprehend the greatness of the gift He has freely given us (v.12). By Julie Ackerman Link

One role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the follower of Christ is that of a guide to help discern spiritual truth. In John 16:13, Jesus said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (niv).

Lord, thank You that You are meeting with me
right now. I want to be taught by You. I don’t
want just to have more knowledge about You; I
want to know You in the depths of my heart.

When you open your Bible, ask the Author to open your mind and heart.

The Surprising Architecture of God’s Story

open door
In Christ, our stories are headed somewhere safe. But that doesn’t mean we can predict where they will go.

“Mother died today.” This jolting sentence opens Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger. The reader is immediately startled, troubled even. Who’s speaking? And why is he so casually indifferent in grief? These three terse words—Mother died today—do critical work. They capture readers’ curiosity to follow this story, wherever it leads.

Whether it’s a secular work or the Bible, principles of good writing are universal. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story,” says novelist Stephen King. “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King admits that before he begins work on a novel, he spends months composing the first sentences and opening paragraphs in his head. “If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know that I can do the book.”

Writers understand that opening sentences and paragraphs carry a lot of narrative heft. But they can’t tell too much or too little. Figuratively, they have to leave the story’s door propped open just enough to entice the reader to enter. As a reader and a writer, I like seeing what I can deduce about the whole of a story from its beginning.

I bring this curiosity about opening sentences and paragraphs even to the Bible, which means that Genesis has always been my favorite book. How does God initiate us into His story? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). To a reader standing on the first sentence of Scripture, the story feels granite-hard. In the beginning suggests to me stability in the narrative arc. Intuitively, I interpret His story as purposed for something good, as headed somewhere safe.

The promise of Genesis 1—of the story—is its structure. It’s as if Genesis 1 has a literary endoskeleton, its refrains acting like bones. We are spared surprise. We can see what’s coming. Then God said, let there be, there was evening and there was morning, it was good: The predictable patterns soothe. Scholars have argued for the poetic nature of Genesis 1, and even in English, it reads like a consoling rhyme. The rhythmic repetition gives the creation narrative its shape, just as God gives shape to the world’s formlessness. What was once vacant, brooding darkness, what was once an empty page, explodes with light and life and poetic form: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). The story gets written, and the world is architected; self-satisfied, God rests from the refrain.

How we want our faith to play like Genesis 1, like a lilting, familiar, predictable melody. If it all began as convincingly as “in the beginning,” should we not expect a linear life from God?

But surprise, not predictability, seems to be the course for the rest of Scripture’s first book. There is catastrophe as early as Genesis 3, and the chapter ends in exile. Adam and Eve are cast from the garden, made aliens and strangers by their fateful decision to mistrust God and disobey His command. There is murder in Genesis 4, and Cain, the criminal, is exiled for his blood-bathed jealousy of his brother Abel.

In Genesis 6, the divine self-satisfaction of Genesis 1 turns to a mysterious, visceral remorse: “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (v. 6). And though Noah and his family are rescued from the flood of judgment, the cycle of human wandering begins anew in earnest. In Genesis 11, the rebellion grows tall into a tower of pride. “Let us make for ourselves a name,” God’s people declare (v. 4), as if shaking their collective fist at Him and His purposes for the beginning.

Where is the story heading now? And what happened to the stability we as readers had been led to expect? Even with Abram on the scene in chapter 12 (and the regenerated hope he brings to the purposes of God’s beginning), there is interminable waiting. Waiting on the story. Waiting on God.

Some of our deductions from Genesis 1—about God and the predictable story He’s supposed to be writing—wobble with uncertainty. As well they should. Perhaps this could be an argument for reading the whole of the Bible and not simply extracting the parts that confirm our preferences. In the beginning is a dandy way for God to begin. Don’t we all like knowing, with a fair degree of certainty, where we are headed? Spare us Your surprises, God!

But if the rest of Genesis teaches us anything, it reminds us that the ways of the Lord cannot be patterned and predicted. Yes, in the beginning, God set into motion great good to be fulfilled fully and finally in Christ, and this promise is rocklike beneath our feet. Nevertheless, those who commit to following I AM who I AM can’t ask for more narrative light than a partially open door.

Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

The fragility—and hope—of all our stories

A few weeks ago, the morning after the party my husband and I threw for one another’s 40th birthday, I stood in the shower, heaving unexpected sobs. The goodness of our friends gathering the evening before, the cherishing of the promises we had made to each other, the bewilderment that life had ended up somewhere strange—the acuteness of the joy, the simultaneity of the pain: It racked me. Nothing lasts. It’s all going so quickly. I can’t save any of this. And I can’t predict what’s next.

To be human, living post-Genesis 3, is to suffer a terrible fragility. I’ve survived enough loss in my life to understand the threats of impermanence that terrorize us: the death of my father when I was 18, the suicide of my brother when I was 23. These chapters in my story remind me that in a matter of moments, all of our stories could careen off the road, leaving us with shattered expectations and unanswered questions.

In truth, I would like a little advance notice on pending surprises. I wish God owed me that much. Can’t I know where this story heads? But Genesis reminds me that God offers no rehearsal of His scripts. This book weans me from my desire for predictions. Nevertheless, Genesis 1 does not leave me bereft of promises. Beginning means middle means end: There is reliability here.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is Himself good. He is the Father who never leaves or forsakes. And the goodness He originally intended for His world is a goodness to which it will one day be restored. That’s because the death, resurrection, and eventual return of Jesus Christ will eternally end death and its terrible threat of impermanence. It’s in the hope of this story—the gospel story—that we find stability for our own.

Illustrations by Jeff Gregory

by Jen Pollock Michel

The Ways and Works of God

“He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.” (Psalm 103:7)

We have a distinct privilege, as believers, to know something of the “acts” of God. Scripture records many instances where He performed even miraculous deeds on behalf of His children.

There is perhaps a greater privilege—that of reflecting on His “ways,” as well. “Ways,” in this context, may be understood as God’s actions and behaviors which reflect His underlying character, resulting in His “acts.” Understanding His “ways” may not always be possible, “for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9), but nevertheless we are admonished to try and even pattern our own ways after His.

The people of Israel who had special knowledge of the “acts” of God were told to “walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:33). But, “oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” (Psalm 81:13). “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

The New Testament echoes this same teaching: “Your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest” (Hebrews 3:9-11).

Moses, an eyewitness to the many magnificent works of God on behalf of Israel, went beyond and discerned the “ways” of God as our text teaches. Surely, he chose the better way. JDM

The Ability to Do

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. —John 15:5

A definition of the word “power” means the ability to do. You know, because it is the Greek word from which our English word “dynamite” comes, some of the brethren try to make out that the Holy Spirit is dynamite, forgetting that they have the thing upside down. Dynamite was named after that Greek word, and the Holy Spirit and the power of God were not named after dynamite. Dynamite was discovered less than 200 years ago, but this Greek word from which we get our word “power” goes back to the time of Christ. It means “ability to do”—that is all, just “ability to do.”…

One man steps into the prize ring and can’t even lift his hands. The other fellow walks in and he has power to do, and soon the fellow who did not have the ability to do is sleeping peacefully on the floor.

It is the man with the ability to do who wins. It means the dynamic ability to be able to do what you are given to do. You will receive ability to do. It will come on you.

Lord, help us to not be afraid of this vital manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Come on our churches in power as we rely upon the Spirit for “the ability to do” whatever You have called us to do. Amen.

Only Servants of Truth Can Know the Truth

…So is every one that is born of the Spirit. John 3:8

Only the servants of truth can ever know truth. You can fill your head full of knowledge but the day that you decide that you are going to obey God, it will get down into your heart. You shall know!

I once read a book about the inner life of a man who was a sharp intellectual. By his own admission, he stood outside and examined spiritual people from the outside but nothing ever reached him. And that’s possible!

You cannot argue around this. Read your Bible—any version you want—and if you are honest you will admit that it is either obedience or inward blindness. You can repeat the Book of Romans word for word and still be blind inwardly. You can know the doctrine of justification by faith and take your stand with Luther and the Reformation and still be blind inwardly. For it is not the body of truth that enlightens: it is by the Spirit of truth.

If you are willing to obey the Lord Jesus, He will illuminate your spirit, inwardly enlighten you; and the truth you have known will then be known spiritually, and power will begin to flow up and out and you will find yourself changed—marvelously changed.

It is rewarding to believe in a Christianity that really changes men and women. In that great day of Christ’s coming, all that will matter is whether we have been inwardly illuminated, inwardly regenerated, inwardly purified!

The question is: do we really know Jesus in this way?

Our Individual Worth

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. ROMANS 10:4

Our lost race has always been prone to discount and reject the wonderful fact of the individual factor in the love of God. Far, far too many men and women in this world are convinced that God’s love for the world is just one big lump—and the individual is not involved.

We have only to look around us with serious observation to confirm the fact that the devil has been successful in planting his lie that no one cares for the individual person.

Even in nature around us, there appears to be very little individual concern. The burden of concern is always for the species.

But Jesus did not preach to the multitudes as though they were a faceless crowd. He preached to them as individuals, and with a knowledge of the burdens and the needs of each one. Our Savior did not come into the world to deal with statistics!

Each of us must come with full confidence that it is a personal word God has spoken to us in Christ, that “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish.”

Lord, Your Word says that each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that You are concerned about the one lost sheep in a flock of a hundred. Thank You for purchasing my redemption by Your death and resurrection. I love You, Lord.