-Treasuring the Lord in triumph and trial.
A while back, I was listening to a very inspiring message by John Piper—arguably one of the finest pastor/theologians in the world today. John has an amazing ability of taking great theological truths and teaching them out of the Scriptures in a pastoral and practical way that anyone—and I mean anyone—can really understand deeply the lofty things about our Lord.
He was teaching on “treasuring Christ.” He said, “we have taught people to submit to Christ and we have taught them the truth about Christ, but have we taught them to treasure Christ?” (paraphrased). Those words jolted me; impacted me; broke me. I started thinking about my songwriting, teaching, articles, etc. in ministry the past twenty-six years caused people to treasure Christ. As I began the process of my jaded, yet heartfelt, evaluation of my life and ministry I began by asking, "had my CD's, writings, concerts and such called people to submit to the Lord?" I would humbly submit, yes they had. I probed further, "had my ministry faithfully called people to the truth of the Word of God?" By God's grace, and in spite of my own limitations and frailties, I would humbly submit, yes it had. But, then I got to the bedrock of it all--the hard truth, I asked of myself "had all my labor in song and word, concerts, interviews, conferences and festivals, etc. encouraged people (and more importantly) engaged people, to treasure the Lord? Sadly, left in the dust of my appraisal the answer was "only a meager portion of the time."
How could I have missed this simple yet profound truth for so long; how could I have missed the balance in my ministry, in my family, in my daily devotions with my children, in my walk with the Lord, in my own local church, in my worship on Sunday morning? It is more than just having our theological "t's" crossed and "i's" dotted; it is more than preaching stirring sermons or singing sacred songs of praise; it is more than just truth constantly downloaded; the goal in it all is to know Him; glorify Him, love Him, worship Him, adore Him, desire Him; simply put... to treasure Him. I was deeply convicted today; and by God's grace, this ministry nor I will never be the same again.
Love the Lord
Listen to the profound words of Jesus Christ our Lord: “And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind..." –Luke 10:27a. This is the first and greatest of all the commandments. In it the entirety of the Law and the Prophets find their meaning and merit. It is to love Him—to treasure Him!
It was no different in the O.T. beloved. Listen to these treasured words of Moses and Joshua:
1. Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
2. Deuteronomy 11:1
"You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.
3. Deuteronomy 11:13
"And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your
heart and with all your soul,
4. Deuteronomy 13:3
you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
5. Deuteronomy 30:6
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
6. Joshua 22:5
Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all
7. Joshua 23:11
Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God.
According to these verses, loving the Lord our God bears the fruit of obeying His commands, walking in His ways, being loyal to Him, clinging to Him, serving Him and being very careful to…love Him. This is God’s gracious and kind work of sanctification in our lives. "Love Him"—it should eclipse all other desires in our life shouldn't it beloved? --so that He is our First Love in every impulse of our hearts. This is the joy we should know and celebrate of Christmas; the gentle reminder and symbolism of the Christmas tree… celebrating—treasuring God's "unspeakable gift" to us in Christ Jesus the Lord.
The Juniper Tree
As I was listening to John I kept thinking that this is not only a special time of the year for celebration, giving, worship, birth, life, incarnation; but it is ironically for many a saddening time marked by loneliness, desperation, depression, hopelessness, and tragically for some... suicide. This is the heartbreaking picture of the Juniper Tree. Do you recall this tree in Scripture? It was the tree that the great prophet Elijah sat under, reduced to fear by the threatening of Jezebel after conquering fearlessly the prophets of Baal. Here is his story: “Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers." –1 Kings 19:1-5.
As you can see, we can draw the metaphor that "the Juniper tree" was Elijah's place of sorrow, suffering, defeat, depression, fear, and the plea before God for his life to end. We mustn't casually "theologize" this encounter to dismiss the reality of the struggle here. This is a real prophet, a real man, overcome by the guilt and fear of failure before the Lord coupled with the shameful tremblings of cowardice before a wicked Jezebel. Elijah cried out to God for his life to end. Do you embrace that shocking condition? Do you understand it? Have you experienced it yourself? This is the cry of a righteous man before a holy God; this is the prayer of a weary, spent, hopeless servant...
From the Crucible of Grace—Sharing A Chapter of My Story
Have you ever been there my friend; one minute doing great things and accomplishing much for the Lord and then with frightened abandon asking the Lord for your life to end?
I’ve been there. Crying out in the middle of the night with no one to hear except the Lord; pleading for answers, for some light, for some hope. Not understanding the plight I was in and how I was going to make it through to serve Him yet another day. My Juniper tree was the tragedy of divorce—something I thought would never touch my home. So many troubling thoughts haunt your mind: “will I be accepted by my peers; still respected by my mentors; embraced by my friends; loved by my church; cherished by my family? Can I still be used of the Lord in service to Him? Is my ministry over?
I found myself prostrate before Him left with nothing more than the aching of a shattered broken heart. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to endure—harder than even the death of my father or younger brother. For you see divorce is the slow living death that never seems to die; where closure comes gradually and questions seldom get answered. Shortly after my wife had left, my friend John MacArthur had called to pray and encourage me. In the midst of sharing with him some of the struggles of that day, I asked him, “John what do I do?” He replied, “I feel like one of Job’s counselors to you right now…I don’t really know what to say-but I can pray with you.” His response was very meaningful to me. You see I wasn’t looking for a pat answer-a quick fix, but for genuine fellowship in the struggle. I am so grateful to the Lord that my friend had not forgotten about me and cared enough to walk with me through those difficult days.
The Faithfulness of God
Divorce should hurt, beloved; it should be painful. God hates it. It is the ripping of the flesh—making two out of what was one. It's terrible. It was and is a difficult journey; a long winter season of the soul in my vaporous life. Disappointingly, reconciliation never came to my home. But, I am so grateful for His unfailing love and sustaining mercy that He has daily extended to the children and I in this crucible of grace. I am so grateful for my peers, my friends, my mentors, my church, my children, and my family. For the wonderful times at Starbucks sharing a cup of coffee and studying God's Word together; or being on the phone in the late night hours weeping, praying, talking and not talking; for watching for the 100th time "What About Bob" (better than any therapy); and for just being there. The faithfulness of God and the fellowship of His people-it doesn't get much sweeter than that.
Rick Holland, one of the pastors at Grace, told me something that I trust will be encouraging to you. He said, "Steve, no matter how hard this trial is for you, you will never have to face the wrath to come." That was so timely to hear. Isn't that wonderful? This earth will be the only heaven some will ever know; but for all eternity they will suffer in an everlasting hell for rejecting Christ and His gospel. And conversely, this world will be the only hell we as Christians will ever know; but for all eternity we will worship and praise our Lord Jesus Christ forever. Amen?
We are still picking up the pieces of those tragic and sorrowful days and probably will be for years to come. Like most who have gone through the pain of divorce and the "starting over process" in their lives, I empathize and share in the struggles too: the daily financial pressures of debt and duty; slowly resolving back taxes; the tensions of getting two homes on one page for the kids sake; the day in and day out grind and joy of living; raising the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; finding a consistent youth group for them that meets with both parents approval, etc. And then on top of all that, "dating" at age 51 is very strange, very confusing, uneasy, uncertain, always awkward, weird, and embarrassing. You single parents and/or divorcees know exactly what I am talking about...
(Joni Eareckson Tada has an excellent article on overcoming loneliness. I would encourage you to read it.) READ JONI'S ARTICLE
God's Grace is Greater...
As I have studied some of the great men of God throughout church history and in the Scriptures, it was not uncommon to discover that most had their own Juniper tree. I know that some of today’s famous pastors do not mention their failings or shortcomings for fear of losing their platforms, their congregations, or place of influence in our lives. I wish they knew how being vulnerable would deepen their “voice” and ministry in each of our lives. (We already know that they are very human and that they are also just earthen jars of clay...they just need to admit it and share it.) This is one of the many reasons that I am utterly convinced that only God could have written the Bible; for we are much too proud of creatures to tell the whole story for all to read. I am grateful that the Lord left in the eternal canon of His Word David's adultery; Job's sufferings; Adam's fall; Peter's denial; Judas's betrayal; Paul's depression; Jeremiah's tears; Isaiah's filthiness; Thomas's doubting; Stephen’s stoning; Epaphras’s trials, Noah’s drunkenness, Jonah’s cowardice, Hosea’s unfaithful wife, and yes, Elijah’s desperateness. Aren't you glad that Scripture is not this sterilized, plastic, veneer coated spiritual account of untouchable artificial prepackaged people? But thanks be to the Lord that the Scriptures are real stories of flawed individuals like you and me. It contains accounts of the sinfulness and waywardness of man, the self-revelation of the character of God, and His merciful redemption of lost people for the praise of the riches of His grace and glory. I thank the Lord for communicating to us about Elijah's struggle; for through it He can bring hope and comfort in our lives too.
Immanuel, God with us
Life is hard and the weight of just making it until tomorrow can be crushing. It can leave one spiritually paralyzed and crushed in their spirit. If you are under the Juniper tree today may I encourage you to come to the Lord and treasure Him. Here is the grace to endure: treasure Him in your hurt, treasure Him in your pain, treasure Him in your sorrow, treasure Him in your failed expectations, treasure Him in your broken home, treasure Him in your vacant heart, treasure Him in your amputated spirit, treasure Him in your weakened condition, treasure Him in your desperate situation, and treasure Him though you are under the Juniper tree. He will strengthen you dear friend--call on the Lord for He is where your help comes from.
Here is our hope: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief.” He can take you from out under the Juniper Tree and bring you back to the Tree of His grace, the Tree of His suffering, the Tree of our redemption, the Tree where God was satisfied and glorified by the once for all sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross—-the Tree of Calvary.
Knowing You Jesus... There is no Greater Thing
Here is a portion of a lyric from one of my songs written by my friend Graham Kendrick. This beautiful encouraging song, taken from the third chapter of Philippians, sums up the longing of all the hearts of His children to know and love Him; for our lives to be lived daily in treasuring Him:
“All I once held dear, built my life upon
all this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Vain and worthless now, compared to this…
Knowing You Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all, You’re my rest,
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love You Lord…
How I love You Lord…”
His Unworthy Servant in His Unfailing Love,
Monday, July 10, 2006
-Treasuring the Lord in triumph and trial.