Casting Your Cares on God

casting pic
A Not-so-brief Description of Casting Our Cares on God
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7

There are some things it can be hard to convince people of—spiritually speaking. It can be difficult to persuade people sin really is a big deal or that their own hearts are often a bigger problem than the people we blame. One thing needing little convincing of is that life is hard and the struggles prove wearying. The phrase “cast your cares on God” has been both a hope believers cling too and an encouragement for how to respond in life’s hardships. For some, it might be evident what the words require of us as the one letting something go and what it promises from God as the one taking something from us. Or, like what is often true for believers, while the meaning might be apparent what seems ambiguous is how we actually go about doing it. My hope is to clarify the phrase’s meaning—primarily from I Peter 5—[1]but also explore both how we might cast our cares on God as well as why we don’t do it in the first place.

Foundations for Casting
In I Peter 5:6-7 the first and primary action is “humble yourselves.” Both the larger context in I Peter of the suffering church and the language of the verse itself—“suffering under the mighty hand of God”—remind us that our attitude in struggles, suffering, and trials should be humility. In verse 6 and again in verse 11 Peter tells us that God is the Sovereign One who allows into our lives whatever comes to pass. These things neither catch Him off guard nor are they evils outside of His control. His Providence means that while He neither does evil to us nor tempts us with evil, he allows and orchestrates all of the events and circumstances in our life. This doesn’t imply that every single thing in our life is by itself good—the world is still broken and sin is still seen as evil—but that every single thing does have a good purpose for those who are God’s children (Rom. 8:28-30). Peter therefore admonishes us to respond with submission to God’s Providence and humility as finite creatures who don’t always know why things are happening or what the intended results might be.

Peter—and the Bible as a whole—ground God’s trustworthiness not only in His Sovereignty and Power but also in his Goodness and Care. In verse seven there are four simple but significant words for why we should cast our anxieties on God: because “he cares for you.”[2] God pairs the magnificence of his Sovereignty with the goodness of his Love. In a parallel passage from Matthew 6:25-24, Jesus roots his command to not be anxious in the connected realities that God knows what we need and he cares or values us (v. 26). Thus, our fears are assuaged by knowing God is strong enough to handle any storm and good enough to care for us in the midst of it.[3]

Returning to the exhortation to humility from verse 6, this is important because in verse 7 the phrase “casting all your anxieties on him” (ESV) is a clause following on the heels of humble yourselves. Unlike how it might read in the NIV translation (“cast all…”), this is not a new verb but a participle explaining how we humble ourselves. This might initially catch us off guard since we don’t think of carrying burdens in the forms of worry or fear qualifies as pride. But, the Bible always gets the diagnosis right and reveals the heart issue at work, and here it is our pride. We carry burdens because we either think we have too or because we’re capable, neither of which are true. Rather than resisting God’s hand or striving to take care of things independently of him, we’re given the freedom to be honest about how small and weak we feel and trust in the bigness of God as God. The reason we don’t let go of worry, fear, shame, and stress is because we’re trying to carry responsibilities we’re not meant to carry. God brings struggles into our lives not so we can prove how strong and competent we are but so we’ll see how strong and competent He is. As our vision adjusts and we realize how small and weak we are we’re at the same time awakened to just how large and strong God is, and that He is those things for us.

The Meaning of Casting
Hopefully having seen a little bit more clearly the relationship between casting our cares and taking on humility, we can briefly define what “casting” means before describing how we might do it. Most of us don’t use the word “cast” in day to day conversations but it’s familiar enough we understand it. Some of the definitions and synonyms include throwing something off or away from you, to redirect, to let go of, or to put something away. When someone casts a fishing line they let it fly. The word in I Peter 5:7 appears one other place in the NT, Luke 19:35. When a colt (donkey) is brought to Jesus for his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, it says “throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.” They take their cloaks and cast—throw or toss—them from their own backs and onto the back of the donkey.

Definitions are helpful in providing parameters to a word but illustrations put a picture in our mind. If fishing or riding donkeys isn’t your thing then here’s one that helps me. In every sport there is the possibility of injury. For example, in football, it seems like every few minutes there’s a TV timeout because of an injury. How many times have you seen someone severely injures their ankle, foot, or leg? What happens is they’re not strong enough to walk off on their own so teammates pick them up and do the walking for them. As the injured player leans—casts himself—onto his teammate and takes the weight off his own legs, the stronger teammate carries the weight for him. All of these definitions and illustrations convey a simple idea. Casting suggests taking something off of yourself and placing or throwing it onto something or someone else. Therefore, when we cast our cares on God we throw the burdens we’re carrying on our weak and worn-down backs onto God’s sturdy and unbending shoulders.

The “how-to” of Casting
While the explanation of casting isn’t all that difficult, the doing of it can be. If burdens were physical things it would be easy to transfer them to someone else. But, since burdens aren’t physical and since God isn’t standing next to me what how do I cast my cares on Him? Casting our burdens on God is an act of faith. When something is an act of faith it is no less real despite it being something that isn’t necessarily done physically.

Hopefully the explanation above has already provided more clarity as to what it means to cast our cares on God and how it might happen. We do it by humbling ourselves before God and giving up trusting in ourselves and controlling our own lives, and instead, we let God be in control and we place our trust in him.[4] We give him our worries, fears, shame, guilt, stress, despair, and control. We don’t deny how hard a situation is, we don’t hide behind feigned smiles and crossed fingers, and we don’t resort to a fatalistic mantra of “whatever will be, will be.” Instead, we’re honest about how hard things are and how much we’re struggling under the weight of it while simultaneously asking God for his help. We learn to trust Him to take care of us, to keep us trusting, to help us endure, to and learn of Him and from Him in the midst of these unwanted circumstances. We keep working and praying but the weight of responsibility is transferred from us to God. It’s no longer up to us to figure it out, fix it, clean things up, or make things right.

Attitudes, affections, and actions all overlap here. Humbling ourselves before God and under his mighty hand requires a change of attitude: God is God and I am not. It also provokes a change in our affections: I should and will trust in my Almighty and Loving God. The turn-around in our actions might just be new attitudes and affections, but it also might be demonstrated externally in our behavior: I will pray instead of worrying or fretting.[5]

To say it differently, burdens in the Bible are different and yet comparable to how we might think about and respond to gifts. God gives us gifts in part as avenues of creating gratitude in our heart that leads to giving thanks to God. The gift from God is given back as gratitude to God. Similarly, God gives us burdens in part as avenues of creating dependence in our heart that leads to trusting God. The burden from God is given back as trust to God.

Take the example of worry, which has family ties with fear and control. We worry, fret, and stress out because we don’t know what’s going to happen or if things will turn out okay. We can’t control the situation and we don’t know what’s next around the bend. But, only God can know the future and only God can control the lives and circumstances of people. If God is not real in my life or cannot be trusted either because a lack of might or lack of goodness then I will try to take his place. That’s all worrying is, acting as if God doesn’t know or can’t control the future so I better figure it out and handle my business. We cast our burden of worry on God by trusting He has a good plan for our lives and will carry us through whatever struggle he brings to us.

Worry isn’t the only burden we carry. Don’t we needlessly carry alone fear, guilt, shame, and sorrows? We’re paralyzed by fear of what might happen instead of trusting God as Helper in whatever comes our way. We hold onto guilt and shame when Jesus—the only judge of who’s guilty and what’s unclean—says your sins and stains have been washed by my perfect blood. We break under despairing sorrow instead of grieving as those who still have hope. Like most Christians, at times I’m tempted to hold onto all these different burdens but for me fear is usually the one I most struggle to let go of. I fear the future. I fear something happening to the people I love. I fear rational and irrational dangers. I have to continually massage the Scriptures back into my heart so that I trust in God more than I fear the “mights and coulds” in my head. It’s not that I say hard things won’t happen or there’s nothing to fear, since neither is promised to me. But rather, it’s knowing that I can’t figure out or change the things coming down the pipeline and then believing that my perfectly loving and perfectly strong God has a good plan for me. I trust He knows what He’s doing and He cares for me in doing it. As I trust, I let my tight grip on figuring out and controlling fear go and grip onto God himself as my security.

Trusting is living as the Father’s child. Most of us as adults now nostalgically remember our largely carefree lives as children. As a child you’re not supposed to have worries because your parents bear all of your worries. A child is—or at least should be—carefree because their parents love them, provide for them, and know what’s best. The child doesn’t fret about mortgages and new clothes because their parents will take care of them. Oh that we would be the children of God marked by trust in a perfect Father who loves us, provides for us, protects us, and cares for us.

Objections to Casting
If you think like me then there’s always a “but what about” or “but I feel like.” Despite all that is true above and even despite our experiences—which we forget—of those truths why don’t we cast our cares on God? What are the reasons we’re hesitant to entrust them to God? The first answer has already been noted: we take God’s place and try to run our own lives. Saying we get into trouble when we try to take God’s place isn’t meant to be harsh but to be honest. The lie that we can be like God has been the snare in our lives since the garden. I daily need to check myself with the reminder that God is God and I am not…so act like it.

In addition to idolatry and pride, I think there are some unstated whispers in the back of our mind that make us slow to cast our cares on God. It’s always a matter of belief, not so much the truths we mentally assent too but letting those truths permeate our hearts until they become our gut reaction. Instead of giving God our burdens because we trust “his mighty hand” (I Peter 5:6) and “he cares for us” (I Peter 5:7) we often listen to lies from self or Satan. The problem is we listen to the wrong voices instead of telling or preaching to ourselves what God has already said. Satan’s common lies designed to keep us carrying our own burdens usually make us thing wrongly of ourselves—as if we’re like God—and wrongly of God—as if he’s like us.[6] Satan will whisper, “The Father doesn’t love you or doesn’t care about you.” He will do everything to make you think, “Your sins can’t be forgiven and you’re guilty” or “you will never change and you’re still the same old you.” This is why go back to the Bible and anchor ourselves in the truths that God is both Sovereign and Caring, that Jesus has paid for all of our sins and taken our guilt, and that the Spirit has been given to gradually change us into new people by his power.

When it comes to listening to our own selves (which might also be influenced by whispers by Satan) I find that the following are our most common reasons we don’t give our burdens over.
God doesn’t care, He isn’t good, or He’s disappointed
God isn’t big enough, the situation is too large or too daunting or too far gone
God doesn’t listen to me or doesn’t know what’s going on.
I got myself into it so it’s up to me now, or I’ve used up all my second chances.
All of these thoughts are based on our subjective failings and not God’s objective truth. Our feelings are like waves that toss us back and forth but God’s Word is rock-solid and unshakeable ground. We will trust and cast our cares on God as we believe the truths about Him shown to us in the Bible. He does care for us. He invites us to come to him with our burdens, our struggles, our sorrow, and our sins. He is powerful enough and strong enough to handle anything. He has a good plan and good purposes for us. He doesn’t want us to figure things out or handle it on our own. In fact, he wants us to give up on self-sufficiency and lean on him alone.

Dig deep enough in the Word that you have truth to push back against the whispering lies of Satan and the deceptive thoughts from self. The cycle is that we speak these truths to ourselves and silence the lies, which allows us to trust God as we cast our cares on him, which in turn convinces us through experience what we believed as truth. The cycle gets stronger and deeper then as we’re led back into the Scriptures to see him more clearly and to trust him to a greater extent. What we usually then find is that the issue wasn’t primarily about the struggle or the trial itself. The issue behind our issues was whether or not we would run our lives or if we would be children who trust in their Father.

Obviously not everything could be said that I would like to say. The explanations could be clearer and deeper. If time permitted we might look at the number of OT heroes who trusted in God as they endured through many hardships. Or, we might look at the life of Jesus and how time and time again he in all his compassion released people from the burdens they carried. We might even go to Galatians 6:2 and see how Christians play a role in carrying one another’s burdens. While not exhaustive, my hope is that this short study puts us on solid footing as we think in more detail about what it means to cast all our cares on Him and then how we might go about doing it. I wanted to close with some wise and encouraging words by Charles Spurgeon.

“Why do you continue to stagger beneath a weight your Father would not even feel? What may seem to be a crushing burden to you would not amount to the weight of a speck of dust to him.
O child of suffering, be patient. Your sovereign God has not passed over or forgotten you. He who feeds the sparrows will also provide everything you need. Don’t give up in despair—hope on! Hope forever! Use the weapons of faith against the seas of trouble and ultimately your foes will be defeated and your distress will come to an end.
There is One who cares for you. His eye is fixed upon you, His heart beats with pity for your suffering, and His omnipotent hand will not fail to provide you help. Even the darkest storm cloud will be scattered into showers of mercy and the darkest night will give way to the morning sun.
If you are a member of His family, He will bind your wounds and heal your broken heart. Never doubt His grace because of the troubles in your life, but believe He loves you just as much during the seasons of trouble as in times of happiness.”
[7]

I’d also recommend this video by Tim Timmons where he sings “Cast Your Cares.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCabdAAy7-M&feature=share&list=RDbyWYXGD7laI&index=1

Footnotes:
Top image found at: http://www.worshiphousemedia.com/worship-tracks/15036/Cast-Your-Cares
[1] Other primary texts in mind would be Ps. 55:22; Matt. 6:25-34, 11:28-30; Gal. 6:2; Also, compare James 4:6-7, 10 with I Peter 5:5-9.
[2] “But this fear arises from our ignorance of divine providence. Now, on the other hand, as soon as we are convinced that God cares for us, our minds are easily led to patience and humility….having cast our care on God, we may calmly rest. For all those who recumb [rest] not on God’s providence must necessarily be in constant turmoil and violently assail others. We ought the more to dwell on this thought, that God cares for us.” John Calvin, The First Epistle of Peter, trans. Henry Beveridge, vol. 22 of Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 149.
[3] “Giving our anxiety to God makes eminent sense ‘because he cares for you.’ God is not indifferent, nor is he cruel. He has compassion on his children and will sustain them in every distress.” Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: Broadman & Holdman, 2003), 241.
[4] “It is rather a trusting commitment to God in the assurance that God indeed cares and that his caring does not lack the power or the will to do the very best for his own.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 188.
[5] In the NT, encouragement to prayer is often tied to trusting in God instead of stewing in anxiety. See Philippians 4:4-7.
[6] Look at I Peter 5:6-11 and James 4:4-6, 10—which parallel one another in multiple ways—where resisting the devil is tied to humbly submitting ourselves and trusting God.
[7] Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, ed. by Jim Reimann (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) 6. http://www.spurgeon.org/morn_eve/this_morning.cgi

A Framework For Understanding Puritanism

pilgrimThis famous picture by William Blake of John Bunyan’s character in The Pilgrim’s Progress highlights some key ideas in the mind of a Puritan. He’s on a pilgrimage away from the city of destruction under God’s wrath and headed towards his true home, sin and guilt are heavy on his back, and his eyes are fixed on the Word of God which is leading his path. That’s one quick snapshot of how a Puritan might have understood his spiritual journey. As almost every book and article on Puritanism explains in its first few pages, defining a Puritan or the movement of Puritanism is challenging. It wasn’t a monolithic movement, it spanned more than one hundred years and multiple countries, and the focus varied over time and in different locations. For that reason, most authors are hesitant to actually define Puritanism and instead they’ll offer characteristics.

The English Reformation essentially lasted from 1520-1558 and Puritanism essentially lasted from 1558-1689, although there is much more overlap between the two. An extended timeline on English Puritanism can be found at Christian History. Here are a few lists of characteristics and descriptions of Puritanism. They might not capture everything but they go a long way in conceptually building a framework of Puritanism.

“Puritanism must be understood in two ways: first, as the endeavor to effect thoroughgoing reforms of ecclesiastical practice, and second, as the attempt at a godly life.” [1]
“Puritansim was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival.” [2]
“A ‘Puritan’ was one who, politically, reacted against the via media of the Elizabethan Settlement in favor of a more thorough reformation in England; who, socially, promoted evangelism, catechism, and spiritual nourishment through the preaching and teaching of the Bible; who, theologically, held the views of Luther’s doctrine of faith (sola fide), Calvin’s doctrine of grace (sola gratia), and the Reformers’ doctrine of Scripture (sola scriptura); and who, devotionally, strove for personal holiness, a practical faith, communion with God, and the glory of God in all things.” [3]

Characteristics from Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken
1) A religious movement (characterized by a strong moral consciousness)
2) A reform movement (reformation of self, church, and state)
3) A visionary movement (a vision of a reformed society)
4) A protest movement (against Roman Catholicism and at times Anglicanism)
5) A minority movement (minority of population; persecuted minority)
6) A lay movement (the lay Puritan participated in all these characteristics)
7) A biblical movement (the Bible was central to everything)
8) A political and economic movement (politics and religion were intertwined)

7 Characteristics from The Devoted life by Kapic & Gleason
1) A movement of spirituality.
2) Stressed experiencing communion with God.
3) The Bible was the sole authority and supreme source for truth and guidance in life.
4) Augustinian in their emphasis upon human sinfulness and divine grace.
5) Emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
6) Troubled by sacramentalism of Catholicism and its remnants in Anglicanism.
7) At least partially a revival (reform) movement.

Footnotes:
[1] Ernest Kevan, The Grace of Law, 305.
[2] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 28.
[3] Brian Cosby, “Towards A Definition of ‘Puritan’ and ‘Puritanism,'” 307.

The Father’s Love in Disciplining (Part 7)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people.

7) The Father loves us not despite disciplining his children but through disciplining his children. I know this point is a hard sell. Even as Christians who believe God’s Word, we often struggle to comprehend how discipline can actually be a demonstration of God’s goodness. We might even go so far as to acknowledge it’s for our good but can it really be categorized as a proof of God’s love? I think the Bible and our experience both tell us yes.

Maybe you had a parent say something like, “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you,” and as a child you would have been more than happy to trade places. You might have experienced discipline that wasn’t fair or was done more out of punishment and rage than discipline and control. God’s discipline is never done in a fit of rage. His discipline is a calm but firm correction done out of love. He has our best interest in mind. God never rejects or punishes us, but rather, he teaches as he disciplines.

There are a number of verses in the Psalms pointing to the instructive and corrective value in discipline (Ps. 94:12; 119:67, 75). Paul says that through discipline we’re protected from pursuing our destruction (I Cor. 11:32). Several Proverbs pick up on this theme and exhort parents to discipline their children if they love them. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24; cf. 23:13; 29:17).

The NT actually connects discipline to love at least twice to help cement in our mind that God’s discipline when we sin proves he loves us (Heb. 12:3-11; Rev. 3:19). He will do the hard things good parents do who care for their children, exchanging a few hard moments of discipline for a life of walking in righteousness. Let’s consider these verses from Hebrews that connect discipline and love.
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as son? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11).

The fact that God disciplines us should encourage us just how much he cares for and loves us. Knowing his discipline comes from his goodness and wisdom, we can trust that he chooses the discipline that we most need. Just like children respond to rebuke in different ways and a parent treats each child based upon their unique personality and needs, so our Father knows what discipline we most need and can handle. The depth and breadth of God’s love encompasses loving discipline as well as gifts of grace. God disciplines us because he loves us and we should regard such discipline as the evidence he will never give up on us or leave us to ourselves. He disciplines the one he loves and his discipline proves he loves.

Earthly parents who love their kids discipline them because they know their role as a parent is to teach and instruct them. The children must learn right from wrong and they must learn what will harm versus what will help them. A parent will discipline the child who tries to put a fork in the light socket, walks into the road when they shouldn’t, skips school, or makes destructive choices. No good parent delights in the discipline itself, but they do it knowing it has a good effect.

There’s a beautiful scene in the television show Parenthood that illustrated this for me. There’s a mother and father who adopt a young boy. Early on he doesn’t feel accepted and continues to misbehave. The mother thinks they should keep looking the other way but the father reminds her they’re his parents now. He’s their child so they need to treat him like family, not like a guest or stranger. Since he’s now their boy and they want what’s best for him they make the choice to explain what he’s done wrong and let him know it’s not okay. God treats us not as strangers or guests who he has no relationship with but as a father who loves his children deeply.

Anne Bradstreet: Two Poems on the Death of Her Grandchildren

AnneBradstreet-15_Today I received in the mail one of my favorite things, new books! One was a biography of Anne Bradstreet and the other was her collected works, largely poems. Anne Bradstreet came to New England aboard the famous ship Arbella in 1630. It’s the same boat John Wintrhop was on and delivered his famous sermon A Model of Christian Charity. In it he laid out the vision of them being “a city on a hill” that would model to England what a godly society would look like. Anne Bradstreet was the daughter of wife to Massachusetts governors and Puritans. Her poems reflect many Puritan themes, some expected and some contrary to common–though incorrect–assumptions of Puritans. One example would be the depth of passion and affection she writes to her husband in her poetry. I’ll have to save it for a later post, but despite the made up Puritans from 19th century novels, they were actually strong proponents of passion, intimacy, partnership, and deep affection in a marriage.

Anne was the first published American poet. She wrote with the values and beliefs of England in mind while living in and experiencing the unique challenges and blessings of New England’s wilderness. I look forward to reading her Works and several of her poems will probably land here. One of the first poems I found in my new book was about the death of a grandchild at all too early of an age (1 month and 1 day). Being an uncle to three babies that did not make it out of the womb, and working in a church where many of our families have lost children before they ever imagined, this and another poem she wrote immediately caught my attention. Anne had many difficulties getting pregnant and for years struggled with being childless. Eventually she and her husband would have a number of children, none of which died as children. She did however have more than one of her grandchildren die as a small child. Here are two short poems she wrote after the death of her young grandchildren.

In Memory of My Dear Grandchild Anne Bradstreet, Being Three Years and Seven Months Old
With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The heavens have changed to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set.
Experience might ‘fore this have made me wise,
To value things according to their price.
Was ever stable joy yet found below?
Or perfect bliss without mixture of woe?
I knew she was but as a withering flower,
That’s here today, perhaps gone in an hour;
Like as a bubble, or the brittle glass,
Or like a shadow turning as it was.
More fool then I to look on that was lent
As if mine own, when thus impermanent.
Farewell dear child, thou ne’er shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s cheered up with this:
Thou with thy Savior art in endless bliss.

On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet, Being but a Month and One day old
No sooner came, but gone, and fall’n asleep,
Acquaintance short, yet parting caused us weep;
Three flowers, two scarcely blown, the last i’ th’bud,
Cropt by th’ Almighty’s hand; yet is He good.
With dreadful awe before Him let’s be mute,
Such was His will, but why, let’s not dispute,
With humble hearts and mouths put in the dust,
Let’s say He’s merciful as well as just.
He will return and make up all our losses,
And smile again after our bitter crosses
Go pretty babe, go rest with sisters twain;
Among the blest in endless joys remain.

The Father’s Love in Promising (Part 6)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts.

6) The Father’s love is seen in the making and fulfilling of promises to his people. God the Father makes many great and gracious promises to us as his people and then he signs, seals, and delivers them to us through the work of the Son and the Spirit. God cannot and will not lie to us (Titus 1:2) and so his word to us is always to be trusted. All of us will be disappointed by people in this world who fail us. They might not be true to their word. They might do what they said. They might not deliver on the things they pledge to us. These unfortunate experiences leave a bad taste on our mouth and it can sour our trust in relationships. However, God is not like us in that he is always faithful and true. You cannot remember a time when he has failed you because it hasn’t happened. You cannot think of a promise he made that was later broken because he never does that. Children desire and they need dads who prove their trustworthiness and love by doing what it takes to keep their promises. God the father has always done that and he tells us the proof is evidenced in the cross.

In his exposition of 2 Corinthians, the Puritan Richard Sibbes gives an extended discussion on God’s promises. He begins by asking and answering “what is a promise?” “A promise is nothing but a manifestation of love, an [intention] of bestowing some good, and removing some ill. A manifestation of our mind in that kind is a promise of conferring of a future good, or removing of a future ill; therefore it comes from love in the party promising.” He continues by arguing that promise comes from the inward love and is the word before the acts demonstrating such love.
“Now God, who is love…will not only show his love in time, but because he will have us rest sweetly in his bosom, and settle ourselves on his gracious promises…he gives us rich and precious promises….This is the nature of a promise. It is not only love, and the expression of love in deed, but the expression of it in word, when he intends to solace, comfort, establish, and stay the mind of man until the good promised be performed.” [1]

Jesus is the one who confirms all God’s promises to us and secures them for us. In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ].” He has at the front of his mind all of God’s salvific promises in the OT are accomplished and confirmed in Jesus. It extends beyond the OT and we know that all of God’s clearly stated promises are accomplished and kept through Jesus.

The author of Hebrews makes the faithfulness of God the foundation of our perseverance. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Even in the midst of circumstances that seem bleak and might raise doubts about God’s word holding true, we can know that he is always faithful. The next chapter, Hebrews 11, then lists a number of God’s people who bet their lives on God’s faithfulness. The whole Bible testifies to God’s faithfulness. He does what he promises and he promises great things to those who are his.

God’s love in these precious promises is two-fold. First, he loves us by being true and faithful rather than being unreliable or deceptive. Nothing gives a greater sense of safety and security than a father who can be fully and completely trusted. We are like children who find ourselves clinging in trust to our Father. Second, his love is also seen in the promises themselves. It’s not only that he keeps his promises but it’s also that he holds out to us some amazing things. He promises to be love us as his sons and daughters, to give us his Holy Spirit to live with us, to keep us secure in Christ, to wipe away our sins, and to one day come back and restore all things.

The Bible is stocked full of promises that are strong enough and sweet enough to carry us through each day. One of the best things to do when studying God’s Word is to intentionally pick out the promises of God and to anchor your life on them. They are true and they are good. If we ever doubt God’s promises he calls us to look back to the pledge of his Son (2 Cor. 1:20; Rom. 8:31-39) and the down-payment of His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14). God loves us by promising us with countless blessings and assurances, and he loves us by always keeping those promises.

Footnotes:
[1] Richard Sibbes, “Exposition of 2nd Corinthians Chapter 1” in Works of Richard Sibbes, 7 volumes (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, reprinted 2001), 3:384. I have updated some of the language using modern spelling.

The Father’s Love in Giving (Part 5)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) The Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace.

5) The Father loves us by giving good gifts. He enjoys us enjoying him as we enjoy his gifts. Every child erupts into joy when a parent gives them a present. That doesn’t change with age, although hopefully our happiness in giving does increase over time. God is the original and unrivaled gift-giver. This exhibits not just his care and provision for us—although that is true—but it expresses his generous and glad heart towards his children. If we go back to the Bible we’ll see how God has revealed himself to us. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17). “Yes, the Lord will give what is good” (Ps. 85:12).

The truth is God hands out who knows how many gifts to his children every day. But, the problem is either we don’t see the gifts or we don’t stop to consider that they’re from God. We start to err when we think we have the things in our life because we earned them (I Cor. 4:7). If that’s the case, then God is unnecessary and there’s no one to thank besides ourselves. Another error occurs when we see God as holding back or not giving us what we want so we grumble against him (Num. 14:2; I Cor. 10:10). However, the win-win happens when we open our eyes to an awareness of the gifts and then we raise our eyes in a response of thanksgiving to the God who gave them. Ann Voskamp connects the two when she writes, “The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible. And it is the art of gratitude that makes joy possible.”[1]

Paul makes gratitude a prominent theme in his writings. I think the reason, in part, is because when we truly see God’s love in giving gifts to us our hearts feel genuine gratitude. That is consummated as we return thanks to God. “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”[2] Gratitude becomes worship. The Bible uses a number of words to express this: gratitude, thanksgiving, praise, and bless (Col. 3:15; I Thess. 5:18; Rev. 7:12). Each of these words connects our response to God as the giver of all good gifts.

The tightrope we’re walking here is enjoying God in his gifts instead of idolizing his gifts. David Pao explains: “Thanksgiving in Paul is an act of worship. It is not focused primarily on the benefits received or the blessed condition of a person; instead, God is the centre of thanksgiving.”[3] God doesn’t want us to minimize or fail to find pleasure in what he provides because we’re paranoid about committing idolatry. He wants us to delight in his gifts not as competition of our affections but as conduits to them. The gift should always lead to the giver.
“When the gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to see and savor the glory of God above all things, the way is opened for us to experience seamless joy in God and his gifts. We are able to see every gift as a beam from the sun of God’s glory. Every joy in the beam runs up to the fountain of light and ends there. No created thing becomes a rival but only a revelation of God.”[4]

Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater to bring home the reality of God’s goodness. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). The best examples of earthly fathers in their generosity and love in giving good things to their kids is a tiny picture of God’s greater love communicated to us in his gifts. God has blessed us with innumerable blessings, both physical and spiritual, and the more we see them as gifts the greater opportunity we have to rest in and relish his Fatherly love. In other words, one way to see God’s heart of love for us is to see the gifts that come from his hand to us.

Footnotes:
[1] Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 118.
[2] C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 10.
[3] David Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 28-29.
[4] John Piper, God is the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 141.

The Father’s Love in Comforting (Part 4)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is not only our God, he is our Father.</

4) The Father expresses his love in the comfort he gives, and even in the fact he calls us to find our comfort in his fatherly embrace. It’s a picture I’ve seen one hundred different ways and yet it’s always the same: a small son or daughter running into the outstretched arms of their dad. Whether a child is hurt or afraid there is nothing they so desperately seek than the comfort of a father. Unfortunately, because of the brokenness of our world, there are all too many kids without dads and so their experience is the unmet need of a father’s presence. But, God’s promise is to be a father to the fatherless as we’re made children of God through Christ (Ps. 68:5). Mothers and fathers are equally important despite their differences—and I think both embody different attributes of God—but a father gives a sense of protection, safety, and security in his embrace. If fathers limited in their power and hindered by their shortcomings can provide such things just imagine what the presence of a Father without any weakness, able to be always and everywhere present, boundless in power and the ability to protect, and perfect in love might offer to his children.

God’s love to us is shown in the many ways he’s acted graciously to us and offered mercy, but the uniqueness of comforting-love expresses the fatherliness of God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). It’s a different nuance than comfort, but in Romans 15:5 Paul also calls him the God of encouragement. God the Father comforts and encourages his children in a tender and caring love. He does not turn them away or pile up heavy discouragements on their backs. Do we think of him in such gentle terms?

In the Old Testament, God offers many words of comfort to his often broken-hearted people (Is. 40:1; 66:13). One morsel given to Israel was this: “I, I am he who comforts you” (Is. 51:12). In the midst of Israel’s exile and the hope of deliverance God promises that he will be their comfort. Life offers many moments of tragedy and pain, even more occasions for frustration and disappointment. Although we do our best to appear outwardly strong and having it all-together, even as adults we are frail children ready to crumble at any moment. We feel scared, unsure, hurt, confused, and often alone. There are answers to questions and explanations to life’s hardships in the Bible, but more often than not those don’t give real comfort. But, God himself does comfort us. The discomforts in this world are no match for the comforts of our Father. He wraps his strong but soothing arms around us. His presence can fill the gap where we feel lost or alone. Richard Sibbes encourages humbled Christians—bruised reeds—that “[the Father’s] presence makes any condition comfortable,” [1] meaning that his presence brings comfort to the most unpleasant of circumstances.

We should ask for and look for the comfort from our Father. He longs to see us return to home and when he looks out his window and sees us from afar he will run to us (Luke 15). The comfort of the Father never goes away. It is not wearied or exhausted by our sins and it isn’t given because we’ve earned. The Father comforts because he is the God of comfort. His love is seen both in the act and in the warm heart that calls us to come to him to receive it. In our mind’s eye we see God with arms crossed ready to criticize or condemn, but God himself assures us that he stands with arms opened ready to welcome and console us. May our meditations on the truths of who God is change the relationship we experience in who God is to us and for us.

[1] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, Reprinted 2008), 9.

The Father’s Love in Adopting (Part 3)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself.

2) The Father’s love for us is seen in that Jesus is sent to reveal the Father to us. The Father desires to be known and understood.

3) God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with God. He is called our Father, an endearing term unlike the formidable Deity of other religions. We are known as God’s children, sons and daughters, beneficiaries of adoption, and heirs. J.I. Packer writes, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

Before Christ we were enemies of God, separated and condemned because of our sin. God is holy and will not let wrongdoing go unpunished. However, when we believe in Christ—the one who God did not spare so that he might take the full punishment of our sins—we are no longer enemies but children. Consider the following three verses as examples.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (I John 3:1)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)

The longing in every person’s heart for a father who cares, loves, and protects points us to the perfect Father. Our greatest earthly examples of fathers are but a tiny glimpse of the goodness of God. Here again we must let the Scriptures speak for God and refuse any seditious thoughts Satan or self might project on God. God holds himself out to us as a Father who will always love his children. This love is unconditional, free, eternal, and undeserved. It is not won or kept by performance but is given as a promise. We should embrace him as sons and daughters, not fear him as servants. God wants to be known and seen in this way which is why he uses intimate and familial language of Father and children. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:4-7). Paul was well aware how quickly we retreat back to fearing God as slaves so he presses the truth we can trust him like children.

Here’s one way I think about it. Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you know how much you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, best friend, or a person at church. When you’re with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Imagine a second person you feel like you always have to measure up for, or who you don’t ever really feel at ease with because it seems you always have to impress them or be on your best behavior. You think if they saw the real you or you don’t do things just right then they wouldn’t like or accept you. Maybe this person is a parent, an employer, or a “friend”.

Now, think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with the first person either watching TV, reading, or talking. How free do you feel? Now imagine the second (intimidating) person is hanging out in your living room? How do you feel? You probably feel fearful or anxious, like you have to be on. Unfortunately, many of us think about God as if he’s this second person. We relate to him as if we’ve got to impress him or convince him we’re good. We don’t think he loves us and accepts us. This changes our relationship and how we act.

The Bible describes our relationship with God differently. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Because of our justification in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and yet fully loved and accepted. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we do change or earn it. It’s a full stream of love that is unconditional.

Imagine if we thought of and related to God on these terms. How different would your daily Christian life be if you believed and experienced that God is completely for you? This freedom puts oxygen back in our lungs that had been sucked out by fear. It’s the difference of practically living according to the gospel and living according to works. God is a Father who sees us and knows us, yet still loves us. He doesn’t put up with us, instead, he loves us and even likes us. This releases us from anxiously keeping up a façade or toiling to attain his love. We can rest in the way he delights in us. We don’t have to dress up before him in our nice clothing like we’re entertaining a guest. Instead, since he’s family, we can put on our jeans and enjoy the company. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Additional Resource:
One book I would recommend in this area is Scotty Smith’s Objects of His Affections.

The Father’s Love in Revealing (Part 2)

FathersLove
In the first post on the Father’s love I introduced both the challenge and the importance of seeing God the Father as loving. As we meditate on the biblical truths of the depths of his love and begin resting in that love we will be refreshed with newfound freedom and security to keep drawing near. Therefore, thinking rightly of God our Father is not just a matter of having our theological ducks in a row but it’s a game changer in living the Christian life. We will consider seven NT examples of how God puts his love on display for us, wanting us to know about it and be wrapped up in it.

1) The Father’s love for us is nowhere more clearly seen than in the sending of his only Son—freely, unprompted, undeservedly—to reconcile us back to himself. If you missed this first point you can read it here, otherwise today we’ll jump into our second example.

2) The Father’s love is seen in the incarnation where the Son is sent to reveal the Father to us. Jesus is the revelation of God to us as one of us. “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).This is most clearly stated in John’s prologue (1:1-18), where the Word takes on flesh and dwells among us, but this theme must be seen throughout the gospels. The OT background of the word is “his powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation.”[1] When an OT prophet received a word from the Lord it was more than just a message. It was God’s revelation of himself to his people.

The clarity and beauty of God’s self-revelations gets ratcheted up when God the Son dwells among us. As the Word, he is the self-expression of God. Jesus is God and reveals God to us. This points back to the Father’s love because it proves he wants to be known in a way that is clear, intimate, and according to truth. Because God is not like us in so many ways and cannot be seen or touched there are moments he seems distant. It might even make him at times seem hard to relate too. But, God doesn’t want things to stay that way so he sends Jesus to show us the Father. Philip said it would be enough if Jesus would show them the Father, and Jesus assures them that the Father is seen and known through his son Jesus (John 14:9). This is what John meant when he wrote, “He [Jesus] has made him [God] known” (John 1:18). God has expressed himself, and he has done so most vividly and visibly in his son Jesus Christ.

In his typical style C. S. Lewis wrote: “He is the self-expression of the Father—what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He wasn’t saying it.” Jesus takes our vague or slightly distorted notions of God and gives us the real picture of the Father in his fullness of grace and truth. When we think about the beauty, humility, and glory of the incarnation we should also find comfort in the Father’s desire to be clearly and intimately known by us. If the Father seems distant or unapproachable we should look to the incarnation of Jesus to see just how near and inviting the Father has come.

“You don’t need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond tapes and cassettes. He has gone beyond videos and even beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our backyard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus. When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action. When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach. When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.”[2]

The incarnation is God’s evidence he wants to be in relationship with us but it also the proof that he wants to be known rightly, clearly, and intimately. This is one reason why I try to consistently stay in the NT Gospels. The more I see Jesus in action, hear his teachings, watch his encounters with people, and consider his redemptive works I will see the heart of God the Father behind it all. It should astound us that the infinite, transcendent, and perfect God would make knowing us and being known by us one of his highest priorities. What a joy that God is a Father who doesn’t just show mercy—and that would be wonderful enough—but he wants a real relationship where he know and love him. Our perceptions of God become fuzzy and distorted when we look at earthly figures of fathers or authorities. However, when we look at Jesus the character and compassion of the Father is clearly and accurately put on display.

Footnotes:
[1] D. A Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 116.
[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-word-became-flesh