Check out this wonderful reminder from Michael Emlet:
A Letter to a Discouraged Saint
January 27th, 2021
Matthew 11:1-6, 16-19
When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me....But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds."
What John the Baptist was missing was hope. Trapped in a cell, beheading on the way, surrounded by enemies who wanted his life and he could not figure out why the coming One had not rescued him from such suffering and danger. This suffering led to doubt and doubt led to a lack of hope. What was Jesus’ response to his doubt in the face of his confusion and his suffering?
Jesus did not give him empty platitudes about life. He didn’t promise him that he would escape beheading or be set free from jail tomorrow. He didn’t promise that the road would get easier or that his cousin would take Herod and his mistress down.
What Jesus did was show John who he was. Look at me and my works and know that I am the One anointed by God for the flourishing of the world.
It is in our reliance upon the knowledge and trustworthiness of Jesus that hope fruits most fully. It is in knowing Jesus as the sovereign Lord who is full of mercy and grace to the ones who, though confused and wondering, entrust themselves to him even when they can’t figure out what is to come. Does death lay at the door? I trust that Jesus, the bringer of newness, knows what he is doing, even if he lets me die. He is good and he is wise, that He is the resurrection and the life. Like Abram's faith that the Lord would raise the son of promise from the dead in order to keep His word, so does faith in Jesus entrust our very expectations of good when the days are the bleakest and most confusing.
However, Jesus is also very clear that if you reject him, complaining that he doesn’t fit your system or deliver what you demand, whining like children when the world doesn't do what they demand, then you have no part of him. Just as those who don’t reject him are blessed, so those who do reject him are under the curse. Hard-hearted rejection that places oneself at the pinnacle of wisdom and the judge of righteousness is an affront to the Blessed King and a mutinous attempt on his throne.
So, there is a difference between the doubt that submits to Jesus and the doubt that rejects Jesus. If you are wrestling with the former today, confused as to how it all works, see the heart of Jesus and the works of Jesus, and entrust yourself to his goodness, His sovereignty, and His faithfulness.
But, if you are the latter, rejecting Jesus because he doesn’t fit your system or deliver what you demand, you need to question what you are really hoping in to make things right, and if it is more capable than Jesus of delivering justice. You are trusting in something in order to make your assertion, but can that something really uphold your moral ground and your expectation of life? Jesus saw all that heard his words and did not submit to them to be building a house on a sandy foundation: it will come crashing down. Will you, instead, entrust yourself to the Divine Architect to set the course and provide the means for the building of your life? All who trust Him find that their houses will stand even when the floodwaters rise.
From The Valley of Vision:
LORD GOD ALMIGHTY,
I ask not to be enrolled amongst the earthly great and rich,
but to be numbered with the spiritually blessed.
Make it my present, supreme, persevering concern to obtain those blessings which are
spiritual in their nature,
eternal in their continuance,
satisfying in their possession.
from a false estimate of the whole or part of my character;
May I pay regard to my principles as well as my conduct,
my motives as well as my actions.
never to mistake the excitement of my passions for the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
never to judge my religion by occasional impressions and impulses,
but by my constant and prevailing disposition.
May my heart be right with thee,
and my life as becomes the gospel.
May I maintain a supreme regard to another and better world,
and feel and confess myself a stranger and a pilgrim here.
all the direction, defense, support, and consolation my journey hence requires,
and grant me a mind stayed upon thee.
large abundance of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus,
that I may be prepared for every duty,
love thee in all my mercies,
submit to thee in every trial,
trust thee when walking in darkness,
have peace in thee amidst life's changes.
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief and uncertainties.
The Word which Isaiah, son of Amoz, perceived concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
And it shall be, at the end of the days,
The mountain of Yahweh’s house will be secured
As the head of the mountains
And it will be lifted up more than the hills
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come,
And they will say:
Let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh
To the house of the God of Jacob,
So that he may teach us something of his ways,
And that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion will go forth teaching,
And Yahweh’s word out of Jerusalem.
And he will set things to rights between the nations,
And arbitrate between many peoples,
And they will hammer their swords into plow blades,
And their spears into pruning knives.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
And they will not, any more, learn war.
Yahweh’s house. The dwelling place of God with his people. The mountain of teaching. Where His Word is known. It is there, by His Word and teaching, that justice is arbitrated, that peace is obtained. It is there, by His Word and teaching, that division and animosity ceases. It is there that the schismatic tributaries of nation and tribe and identity group flow into one stream of submission to His authority, humility before His Word, and honor to His majesty.
Do we think of the church in this way? Is this trembling before His Word the thing which defines our character? Do we gather before His presence, as one people, to be taught by Him? To learn from Him? To be directed as to how we must live?
You see, this is the manner by which peace is established, a flowing to hear from the Word of the Lord so that we may walk in His ways, appreciate what He values, and submit ourselves to His wisdom, authority, and majesty. When we do this, there is peace, and our weapons of warfare, our striking to destroy implements of words and deeds towards others, are reshaped into words and deeds which bring fruit, and bread, and life. Weapons of destruction remade into implements to provide sustenance and thriving of life.
Oh, that we would be known as people of the Word! Oh, that we would be known by the world as those who humbly submit to His commands and decrees, “the people of the Book” who have laid down their weapons of destruction and speak words which may cut, but which are intended to bring life, and deeds which may prune, but which are intended to produce the flourishing of existential joy.
Ah! How she has become a whore –
The trustworthy town!
Full of judgment,
Righteousness used to lodge in her,
But now murderers!
Your silver has become dross,
Your liquor diluted with water,
Your princes stubborn,
And in league with robbers.
Each and every one loves a bribe,
And pursue all sorts of deceptions.
They do not provide justice for the orphan,
And the widow’s case does not come before them.
This is the decree of the Sovereign,
Yahweh of Hosts,
Potentate of Israel –
Oh! I will relieve myself of my adversaries,
And I will avenge myself on my enemies,
And I will bring back my hand upon you,
And I will refine, as with a cleansing agent, your dross,
And I will remove all your base metal.
And I will bring back your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the start.
Afterwards, you will be called
“City of Righteousness”
The Trustworthy Town.
Zion will be ransomed with justice,
And her repentant ones with righteousness
And shattering for those who are rebelling, and the sinful
All at once!
And those who forsake Yahweh are finished.
For they will reap shame
From the fine trees which you have desired,
And you will be dishonored by the gardens
Which you have chosen.
For you will be like a great tree withering in its foliage,
And like a garden which has no water.
And the strong will be tinder,
And what he has made a spark,
And they will burn, both of them together,
With no one to put the fire out!
Sin is a corruption which promised well-being, a deceiver who speaks words of affection but hides insidious cruelty in its intentions. Isaiah pictures God’s people as corrupted and transformed by their dependence upon idols, and their association with injustice as that which corrodes their beauty and dilutes their potency.
Like a valuable metal which has been mixed with worthlessness, or a diluted drink, watered down and worthless, injustice has corrupted their whole society. The courts are corrupted by partiality and power-hungry judges who abuse their power to line their own pockets. The governors are equally corrupt, seeking power and wealth and leaving the weak and vulnerable and unjustly treated alone to fend for themselves, rather than seeking to protect the innocent and provide for the powerless, which is what God had ordained powerful people to do. Thus, the whole society was breaking down, corroding, and was close to being burned up like tinder, which they planted as beautiful trees, but did not water with worthwhile water.
Sin is just that, promising power, promising greatness, but merely starving the life out of us personally, and out of us socially. The center cannot hold when power becomes the greatest treasure. We were not made to hoard or control or treasure such things with no boundaries. And having listened to the siren’s surreptitious song, God rose up to avenge and to cleanse.
He avenges Himself against his enemies and cleanses His people from their corruption all at once! In one motion of judgment and mercy He judges his enemies and restores his people. How would he do this?
Zion would be ransomed, purchased back at the cost of God Himself. He would do it! And her repentant ones would be purchased with righteousness and ransomed with justice and vengeance would be poured out upon those who continue in their rebellion - and this is all at once.
Well, Isaiah paints a picture here which he does not answer until chapters 53 and 54, but there is a hint in verse 28, “those who forsake Yahweh are finished!” God finishes it against those who forsake him. And God finished it by becoming the one who forsook Him. When Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken Me?” he was crying out as one who was forsaken by God because He had taken upon himself the place of one who had forsaken God. We are restored because He stepped into our place and bore the flaming vengeance of God against us who forsook Yahweh.
In His Son, in Himself, God restores his flock as sons (53:6) and grants the righteousness of God which we corrupted with our sins (54:17). The garden which we tried to grow will be burned up, but God will plant a new tree which will span the river of living water which flows from His throne, and its leaves will be the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). God will undo the corrupting and destructive effects of sin because His justice and His mercy were issued all at once at the cross of Jesus Christ. Therefore, He is both just and the justifier of those who are united to Jesus by faith.
Flee from sin, my friends. It will only bring corrosion of your life. And rest in the Messiah, Jesus the Righteous One, who stands in your place so that you might be granted the fullness of His resurrection life.
"When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They answered, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven." Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." (Matt. 16:13-21)
I look around me today and I see fear everywhere. Bombings and destruction, burning and murders, viruses and rebellion. People are afraid. The Church is afraid - of persecution, of violence, of losing our political freedom to worship.
And the proposed solutions being given to these fears – are they what Jesus says is the rock of the Church? “You are the Christ – the son of the living God.” Our hope and expectation of good, our comfort and our peace, is not grounded upon the political liberties, the stability of our buildings or meeting times, the peaceful conditions of our cities or our families. In fact, after Jesus made this great promise, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” he went on, reports Matthew, to explain that he would be rejected by the social and religious and political powers, suffer at their hands in many ways, and then be killed.
It was not in the protection from these things that the Church is built, but in that last promise – on the third day he was raised. The gates of Hades could not overcome him, and the gates of Hades, the sufferings and the little deaths of our dreams and of our comforts and of our buildings and crosses and parking lots and homes and jobs, cannot overcome His resurrecting power.
And the Church will not be built with guns, with violence, with the defeat of political parties or persons, but because Jesus Christ builds it upon the confession, "You are the Christ - the son of the living God." The Holy Spirit blows where He wishes and raises dead hearts to life, opens the blinded eyes to behold Jesus as the Restorer and the Lord. Our hope is built on nothing less than this, on Jesus' blood and righteousness. We dare not trust the sweetest frames, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
Our power is in the Christ, the son of the living God, who sits enthroned at the right hand of God over all of Creation, without failing to accomplish all that God has ordained to do in the kind intention of His will towards us who believe in Him.
The Church will endure, my friends. You live, because He lives. He will build His Church, and nothing can stop Him from doing so.
"Some trust in chariots, others in horses, but we remember the name of Yahweh our God." (Psalm 20:7)
From Rich Carroll:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
The corona virus has us all thinking about the future and what will tomorrow bring in regards to our jobs, our schools, our health and our plans.
This verse in Matthew is taken from the middle of a lengthy teaching/sermon Jesus is giving, known as the Sermon on the Mount. Just prior to this section Jesus warns the people/us about the problem of trying to serve 2 masters at the same time. In fact He tells us that it is impossible! For either, we will end up ‘hating the one and loving the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.’ He tells us straight out that we ‘cannot serve God and Money’ at the same time. (Matthew 6:24) One will win out over the other every time.
Then Jesus, the Eternal Word, and the face of God Himself tells us that anxiety and worry run contrary to a heart that is committed to serving and loving God alone. Why do you worry about clothes or food or shelter Jesus asks them? If His Father takes such good care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field will He not take care of those who are made in His very image, Jesus asks?
We may have enough for today but what about tomorrow, next week or next year? There’s nothing wrong with making plans for the future but who or what are we truly trusting while making those plans? If He promises us enough ‘manna’ for today will He not provide the manna that’s needed for tomorrow and next month as well?
The more I personally see who this Jesus really is that makes such grand and definitive statements the more I can lay my head to rest each night. The more I see His displays of power, love, sacrifice, forgiveness and kindness towards and for me the more I want to worship and truly leave the worries of tomorrow in His hands.
I really do have enough trouble for today’s energy and faith without exhausting them for tomorrow’s as well.
“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8)
Hear the word of Yahweh,
chiefs of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!
What use to me is the abundance of your sacrifices?
Yahweh keeps saying,
I am sated with burnt offerings of rams,
and the fat of well-fed beasts.
And in the blood of bulls, and lambs, and he-goats
I find no pleasure.
When you come to appear before me
who sought this from your hand -
a trampling of my courts!
Stop bringing empty gifts;
it is an abhorrent incense to me.
New moon festival, and Sabbath,
calling conventions -
wickedness coupled with religious duty is too much for me!
Your new moon festivals, and your special occasions
my soul hates.
I am tired of bearing them.
And when you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes
Even though, indeed, you multiply prayer I am not
Your hands - they are full of bloodshed!
Wash! Make yourselves clean!
Remove your evil practice from before my eyes!
Give up wrong-doing!
Reform the oppressor!
Deal justly with the orphan!
Take up the case of the widow!
Come, then, let us argue the point with each other,
Yahweh keeps saying.
Though your sins be like scarlet,
Like snow they will be white!
Though they be red as crimson,
Like wool they will be.
If you are willing and listen,
the goodness of the land you will eat;
and if you refuse and prove contentious,
by the sword you will be eaten!
For Yahweh's mouth itself has spoken.
It is so easy for the rites to become ritual to become religious duty devoid of their purpose, emptied of their true meaning and significance. It is easy to believe that the end is the duty itself, the goal the ritual itself, and so miss that they are symbols and fruits of a tree deeply rooted in the heart of God, and it is the heart of God to which we must make our way. As if the singing were the end, instead of the means to loving Him. As if the Communion cup was the end instead of the means to remembering Him. As if the reading of the Scripture were the end which we can smile upon at the conclusion of the chapter each morning, feeling full in the fact that we finished the words rather than mediating upon them, being corrected by them in spirit and truth, and turning through them to worship and adore and praise the Living One who communicates His heart and will to us through them.
You see, that it was what happening in Israel, and we know the methodology well, for it is the habit of the human heart to turn the reminders into the ritual into the empty religion. We do our deed, sing our songs, hear the preaching, and walk off without reflection, without resonance in our hearts, without worshipping the Lord.
As Alec Motyer wrote, "The precious habit can take over and the bread and wine pass from hand to hand without any feasting in mind and heart on the Christ of Calvary. Over everything the Bible would inscribe the words, 'I write these things to you so that you may not sin' (1 John 2:1)."
Christ died to set us free from sin, so we do not use our freedom as an opportunity to boast in the flesh, but as an opportunity to love one another. We were redeemed for holiness, to be holy as He is holy, as beloved children of the Father. We take sin seriously, and holiness seriously, because our Father hates it so much that He sent His only-fathered Son to die to redeem us from its curse, so that we might walk in the newness of life, in righteousness, in all which is consistent with Him. Like Father, like sons.
As Paul wrote the Roman church, "If you have died to sin, how can we remain living in it?" Let us lay every encumbrance aside and run for the pleasure of God, with every ritual feasting upon the holiness of God in all humility, so that God may be imaged rightly, as we were created to do.
From Richard Roberts:
I am starting to read through the book of Isaiah again, and I thought that I would start blogging some thoughts. These are from Isaiah 1:1-9.
I have been helped by Alec Motyer's wonderful work and translation in Isaiah by the Day. I recommend it. He translates verses 2-9 of chapter one in the following way:
Hear, O Heavens,
listen, O Earth,
for Yahweh has himself spoken:
"Sons I have nurtured and reared
and they - they! - have rebelled against me!
An ox knows its owner,
and a donkey its master's trough;
it is Israel who does not know!
My people who have no discernment!
Ah! Sinning nation,
a people heavy with iniquity,
seed of evil-doers,
sons acting corruptly.
They have forsaken Yahweh,
spurned the Holy One of Israel,
turned themselves back into foreigners.
What use is it to continue stubborn? -
you will only be beaten down again!
The whole head is disease-ridden;
from the sole of the foot to the head
there is no soundness in it -
bruise and scar and fresh wound;
untreated, and unbandaged, and unsoothed with ointment.
Your land a desolation,
your cities burnt with fire,
your country -
in front of you foreigners are eating it up,
like something overturned by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left over
like a shed in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber patch,
like a blockaded city."
Were it not that Yahweh of Hosts himself
had left over for us a tiny remainder,
we would have matched Sodom,
we would have resembled Gomorrah.
The craziness and irrationality of sin is displayed here by Yahweh has He calls His people, us, to see rightly, to see in truth. It doesn't make sense to sin. It doesn't make sense to rebel. The Lord calls us "sons whom I have reared", and "My people." Yet, this identity is set alongside the contrarian behaviors of rebellion, iniquity, sin, evil-doing, corruption, and an attitude of carelessness like that of a foreigner (one who does not love the people or the land as one who belongs to them).
How like the battle between the Flesh and the Spirit is this? How irrational can my heart be, who knows the blessings of God, the joy of His presence, the comforts of His goodness, and yet, like a deluded man stumbling after his delusion, do I turn my back on the Lord and seek to find life in something or someone else? This is not merely the problem of the people of Israel in the 8th century BC. This is the problem of the heart of God's people in all times and places.
It doesn't make sense. We see the truth. We see the pain. We see the consequences...Yahweh calls us to look out upon our land, to look out upon our churches, to look out and see the devastation and repent. Why? Because of that line of grace in verse 9, "Were it not that Yahweh of Hosts himself had left over for us a tiny remainder...." Yahweh has not brought utter desolation. He has not treated us like Sodom or Gomorrah, but has left over a lily pad of grace in the flood of His judgement.
On this side of the cross we see that this is not only a lily pad, but a solid rock, a stayed foundation, an island of infinite stability that flourishes with the life of God. We see Jesus anchoring our souls, the grace of God who has appeared and has rescued us and is also calling us to reject ungodliness.
Paul wrote of this to his brother, Titus (2:11-14):
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.
We are not Sodom and Gomorrah because Jesus was utterly devastated in our place. He bore the judgement upon rebellion and corruption, bearing our iniquity upon that Tree, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. We belong because He brings us in. Without Him, we are utterly ruined and without hope. With Him we are extravagantly blessed and full of hope.
May the Lord fix your eyes upon the desolation today, then draw your focus to the "tiny remainder" of His grace in Jesus Christ.
We are worshippers. What do you think of when you read that? What do you think of when you think of people worshipping? Is it singing in the congregation, or a crowd of people bowing toward Mecca, or Buddhists meditating or laying out candles on the river?
We tend to think of worship as those formal rituals or dedicated times and activities which are different than the normal activities of our lives. But, the Scripture speaks of worship differently than that. We do not simply do worship, we are worshippers. And God is not more interested in the acts between 10:30 and noon on Sunday morning than He is in the position of our hearts and desires and delights during the rest of the week, because those are more revelatory of what we are truly worshipping.
What is worship? Worship comes from the old English word "worthship." It is a word about value, about treasuring, about worth. We worship what we treasure the most, what we desire the most, what we delight in the most. Therefore, it is not merely a ritual, nor even a behavior. It is affectional. It consists, at its root, of our affection.
Worship is the highest form of love. That is why everything that we do is an act of worship. It is what we live for and why we do what we do, say what we say, and choose what we choose at any moment and in any place. As worshippers, we always do this, whether we call it “worship” or not. We are always choosing what we want the most, depending upon what we believe in the most, and pursuing what we value the most. Those are all acts of worship.
So, the question is never, “Are you a worshipper?”, but rather, “What are you worshipping?” The only difference between a religious person and an irreligious person is what or whom they worship, the object of their desire, their trust, their hope, their values.
Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria, “The Father is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and in truth.” There is no “proper place” for worship. The only propriety is the proper heart and the proper object: the one true God, i.e. ‘in truth’.
And our worship always begins with the revelation of God. We have to know Him, to know something of Him, in order to see His beauty, His glory, to value Him rightly, and so we must hear what He says about Himself. This is why our daily reading of His Word is necessary. It is here where God reveals Himself most clearly and fully, in the face of His Son through His Word. So, our Bible reading is not merely duty, an act of “religiosity” to get our day started off right, but it is looking at the Lord so that we might know the one for whom and to whom we live today, whom we worship. We seek beauty, the most beautiful, in His Word.
Worship, then, is a response to this revelation of Him. We respond in worship to the revelation of who God is and what God has done. How are we to respond?
“He is worthy.” He has the quality of being worthy of our words, our works, our delight, our joy, our hope, our honor, our love. Since worship is the highest form of worship, then we will live for what we love the most, and if we are to worship in spirit and in truth, then our greatest love should be reserved for the object most worthy of that love. And the only one worthy of the highest love of all creation is the Creator. The only one worthy of the highest love of a sinner forgiven and redeemed is the one whom showed him mercy and redeemed him at His own cost. The only one worthy of our lives is the One who gave His life for us, out of sheer grace and kindness.
So, let us worship the Lord today, in all that we do. We work at our jobs for His sake, because He is worthy of our work. We speak to others today for His sake, because He is worthy of our praise and of our obedience, worthy to be trusted. Remember that our worship is everything that we do throughout the week, and when we gather on Sunday we simply do so together, but not as something new or original, but as a continuance of what we have been doing all week.
Here is a song that we hope to introduce to our congregational singing on Sunday!
Fix your eyes on Jesus!
Speak to your own soul
Tell shame, “Shame, you are worthless in comparison to the joy that is set before me in Jesus!”
Shame your shame by fixing your eyes on that joy in Him!
The gospel preaches to you of God’s mercy towards the unclean, the sinners, the ashamed, the outsiders – in Christ we are all together clean and pure, welcomed by God, and we belong to Him as children in whom His soul delights and in whom He will defend!
Stop comparing yourself with others!
Remember that Jesus is not ashamed to call you his brother (or sister!)
The gospel frees you from needing anyone’s approval but God’s, and He approves of you because of Jesus
The gospel sets you upon a path through the fields of suffering to the city of joy – and it is WORTH IT
Jack Miller, Saving Grace, July 5th:
“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” – Proverbs 23:26
You reach the conscience of another person by first being changed yourself, and out of that change, in love, reaching that other person. Most of the time when you we want to see someone else influenced, we look for the best method, how-to, or technique – something we can operate independently of changing ourselves.
When we do that, we usually succeed in making the relationship worse. Solomon identifies what we really want in any primary relationship; we really want their heart. It’s not wrong to want the heart of another; it is the height of maturity to want that. However, the way we go about trying to get it is often the depths of immaturity.
Perhaps the greatest problem in our close relationships is that we don’t like to disturb the usual habits and routines. If we’re really going to reach the conscience of another, we have to deal with the question of whether we have first given our hearts to God. It is only as our hearts are open to him that we are able to open them to others. This is where change starts.
Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore, my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him.
"There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger....Christ takes part with you, and is far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more. What shall not make for us, when our sins, that are both against Christ and us, shall be turned as motives to him to pity us the more?"
-Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ
Humility and a passion for praise are a pair of characteristics which together indicate growth in grace. The Bible is full of self-humbling (man bowing down before God) and doxology (man giving praise to God). The healthy heart is one that bows down in humility and rises in praise and adoration. The Psalms strike both these notes again and again.
So too, Paul in his letters both articulates humility and breaks into doxology. Look at his three descriptions of himself quoted above, dating respectively from around A.D. 59, 63, and 64. As the years pass he goes lower; he grows downward! And as his self-esteem sinks, so his rapture of praise and adoration for the God who so wonderfully saved him rises.
Undoubtedly, learning to praise God at all times for all that is good is a mark that we are growing in grace. One of my predecessors in my first parochial appointment died exceedingly painfully of cancer. But between fearful bouts of agony, in which he had to stuff his mouth with bedclothes to avoid biting his tongue, he would say aloud over and over again: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). That was a passion for praise asserting itself in the most poignant extremity imaginable.
Cultivate humility and a passion for praise if you want to grow in grace.
~James Packer, Your Father Loves You
From Rich Carroll:
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
We all have troubles in this world! My wife and I see all the struggles reported about our world as well as our own poor choices in relating to one another at times and feel helpless to affect those things we feel little control over. Health related troubles, financial troubles, relational troubles and God tells us we have spiritual/moral troubles. You name it, it comes with the territory of being human and living in this world. Sometimes these troubles stress and overwhelm us. We cry out, pray, and wonder how things might get any better. For the believer however, there is a perspective that lightens our load when we stop and consider the wise and God-inspired words of the apostle here. We are told to fix my eyes on what is unseen and eternal.
Jesus, towards the end of His life, in the upper room, the evening before He was condemned, spoke to His closest friends about their troubles: “These things have I spoken to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulations but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) I need to hear these words in the midst of my personal troubles. As I stop to consider and allow them to wash over my heart I sense my Savior speaking directly to me that there is a greater reality than these “momentary troubles”, although they feel more than momentary. They don’t quickly go away. But our Lord, in His kindness and compassion reminds me/us that these troubles are a mere drop in the bucket compared to what life will look and actually be like on the other side of this world, for all eternity. So, take courage friend. He will not let you go. You and I can trust that He is really good and has our best in mind. He invites us to look at the eternal picture with Him, on what is unseen. See the eternal weight of glory in what He has planned for us that far outweighs these momentary troubles.
“Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)
“One day [Robert Bruce] was preaching before His Majesty at Edinburgh, and the King [James VI] was sitting in his own seat, with several of the nobility waiting on him. The King had a custom very frequently of talking with those about him in time of sermon. This he fell into that day. Mr. Bruce soon noticed it, and stopped, upon which the King gave over [fell silent].
The King fell a talking to those next him a second time, and Mr. Bruce stopped a second time, and if I remember, sat down in his seat. When the King noticed this he gave over, and Mr. Bruce went on in his subject.
A third time the King fell a talking. Mr. Bruce was very much grieved that the King should continue in this practice, after the modest reproofs he had already upon the matter given him; and so a third time he stopped, and directing himself to the King, he expressed himself to this purpose:
‘It’s said to have been an expression of the wisest of kings, (I suppose he meant an apocryphal saying of Solomon’s,) ‘When the lion roars, all the beasts of the field are at ease’; the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is now roaring, in the voice of his Gospel, and it becomes all the petty kings of the earth to be silent.”
Original Source: Robert Wodrow, Sermons by the Rev. Robert Bruce, 1590
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Greatest treasure of my longing soul
My God, like You there is no other
True delight is found in You alone
Your grace, a well too deep to fathom
Your love exceeds the heavens’ reach
Your truth, a fount of perfect wisdom
My highest good and my unending need
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Strong defender of my weary heart
My sword to fight the cruel deceiver
And my shield against his hateful darts
My song when enemies surround me
My hope when tides of sorrow rise
My joy when trials are abounding
Your faithfulness, my refuge in the night
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
Gracious Savior of my ruined life
My guilt and cross laid on Your shoulders
In my place You suffered bled and died
You rose, the grave and death are conquered
You broke my bonds of sin and shame
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer
May all my days bring glory to Your Name
"O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer" Music and Words by Nathan Stiff © 2017 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP) Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Churches. All rights reserved. Administrated worldwide at www.CapitolCMGPublishing.com, excluding the UK which is adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family. www.SovereignGraceMusic.org
From Rich Carroll:
An excerpt from Brennan Manning's book, Ruthless Trust :
"The ragamuffin resonates to the Pauline cry, 'I know who it is that I have put my trust in' (2 Tim 1:12). The felt knowledge of the tenderness of Jesus that lifts us, scarred and depressed after sin, gently to himself is the very soul of ragamuffin spirituality. After stumbling and falling, the ragamuffin does not sink into despondency and endless self-recrimination, she quickly repents, offers the broken moment to the Lord, and renews her trust in the Messiah of sinners. She knows that Jesus is comfortable with broken people who remember to love [him].
Alert to the manipulations and machinations of pharisaical self-righteousness, ragamuffins refuse to surrender control of their lives to rules and regulations. They see that the stale religiosity of legalists, trapped in the fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism, obscures the face of the God of Jesus. They will not barter their souls for the false security of fear-filled pieties that cripple the human spirit. The motto on the New Hampshire license plate, “Live free or die,” is the ragamuffin motto.
During the past three years of prayer, study, and soul-searching, the Holy Spirit has guided me to an inescapable conclusion: ruthless trust is the way for this ragamuffin. If it be your way, the sign you can trust will be the slow, steady, and miraculous transformation from self-rejection to self-acceptance rooted in the acceptance of Jesus Christ.
"One of the most dangerous things a Christian can do right now is neglect Bible reading.
Thousands of voices are attempting to convince you how to think.
Be certain, you are being shaped.
More Scripture, less social media.
More Bible, fewer books.
More prayer, fewer blog posts.
It is admirable to read books.
It is wise to read helpful books.
It can be sharpening to read books you disagree with.
But we must read the most important Book regularly, deeply, and humbly so that as we read other books we will be well equipped to discern truth from error."
“It has pleased our Father to open his counsel and to let us know the very intent of his heart and to acquaint us with the eternal extent of his love; and all this, that our joy may be full and we might live as the heirs of such a kingdom [of heaven]. And shall we now overlook all this, as if he had revealed no such matter? Shall we live in earthly cares and sorrows, as if we knew of no such thing? And rejoice no more in these discoveries than if the Lord had never written it? If your prince had promised you some lordship, how often would you be casting your eye upon it and making your daily delight to study it, until you come to possess that dignity itself. And has God promised you heaven, and do you let it lie there, as if you had forgotten it? Oh, that our hearts were as high as our hopes, and our hopes as high as these infallible promises!”
Richard Baxter, Practical Works
The book of Acts is a book of sermons. Most people think that the book is a narrative, which it is. But, if you read it straight through you will see just how much preaching there is in this book. There are a total of 10 actual sermons in the book (1 Stephen, 4 Paul, 5 Peter) and 32 summaries of preaching. While there are miracles and wonders done through the apostles and angels, visions of Jesus, and voices from the heavens, the real work is the continuation of the work of Jesus: the proclamation of the kingdom of God empowered by the Spirit of God. Just as Jesus left his baptism, where the Spirit descended on him like a dove and the vindicating voice echoed from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom my heart delights,” so also Jesus having ascended poured out His Spirit in a baptism of fire onto His Church, and in a similar way proclaims, “This is my beloved Bride, in whom my heart delights” so that they, too, could follow His lead in preaching that original message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In fact, the dominant phrases in the book are “word” and its synonyms “gospel” or “message” and “Holy Spirit”. The Kingdom of God is said to be proclaimed and the Word is personified as “increasing” and “adding” to this kingdom community of those who entrusted themselves to Jesus as their savior-king.
So, how did their culture receive this proclamation of Jesus’ authority as King in the Kingdom of God? Well, you will find that they did the same thing that people do today when the true gospel is proclaimed. They filtered it. Jews heard that the gospel was a message against their Law, their Temple, their customs (6:14), an intolerant strike against their culture. Greeks thought the message was “that gods made with hands are not gods” (19:26), a judgmental exclusive gospel which demanded changing of allegiance, an intolerant strike against their values. We see the same response with religious and irreligious people today. The gospel demands submission to Jesus alone, not our performance and not our values. He alone is our righteousness, nothing else.
The actual presentation of the gospel was given in diverse ways, but it was always the same message. There was not a gospel for the Jews and a gospel for the Greeks, a gospel for religious people and a differing one to lessen the offense to others. The gospel was not modified or filtered in order to get a better reception. The gospel stands on its own and is the ferocity of God to transform any heart in any culture without partiality. Charles Spurgeon saw the concern that his brothers put on making the gospel palatable to his culture and said,
“The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Lover of God’s Law Filled with Peace, January 2, 1888)
The apostles preached to Jews and Greeks, to all peoples, so you can see how they presented the gospel:
Acts 17 – to Greeks in Athens: Paul doesn’t begin with the OT Scripture, but appeals to Natural Law, or General Revelation, and moves to Jesus as the One God appointed to judge the living and the dead because He was raised from the dead – doesn’t even get to forgiveness of sins
Acts 28 – to Jewish leaders in Rome: Paul “From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.” (Acts 28:23)
The center of their message is Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, ascended to reign in the kingdom of God. It is all about Jesus, His authority, both in power and in right. The message of Acts is only secondarily about the Church, as the purposed building of Christ’s Bride. In fact, in Acts 14 when Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel and had healed a man who was lame, the Lystrans (modern day Turkey) loved the church! They wanted the church in their community! They saw how it could benefit them to have the church honored there and they longed to make it happen. But they didn’t understand the lordship of Christ. They revered Paul and Barnabas as super-heroes, as the gods come down for their good. Yet, look how the ambassadors respond in Acts 14, “They rushed out into the crowd and tore their clothes, saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men, like nature to you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these empty things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea…” (v15). Yet, the people didn’t want that God. They wanted their gods.
See, the gospel of Jesus brings about hostility and the book of Acts records this well, too. Look at the very next verse, v19. In one verse the people go from worshipping Paul and Barnabas to intending to murder them by stoning Paul and dragging him outside believing they had killed him. In honor or hostility the Church maintained its gospel of the crucified, risen, and reigning Son of God to whom people must turn exclusively.
Because the story is not about Peter or Paul. They do not replace Jesus. They are Jesus’ hands and feet, but not His head. They aren’t Christ to their communities, and never will you find in Scripture such a ridiculous statement as ‘Be Christ to somebody’. They could not be the Christ. United to Him, but distinct from Him, as a husband and a wife. They are Peter and Paul, ambassadors for Jesus. Proclaim Christ! Preach Christ! Jesus lives and reigns and sends, and He is distinctly the content of the gospel message, the King whom the Word of the Lord proclaims. It is not the winsomeness of Peter or the likability of Paul that grew the Church. It was the gospel itself. The message. The Word of the King. This is so much the case that Luke says “the Word of the Lord continued to increase” in 6:7 to describe the growth of the Church. The Word increased. The Word concerning the Lord Jesus. The emphasis is on the Word, upon the King, not upon the Church.
This Word, and the glorious freedom of people estranged from God and the fullness of their joy and life in Him, the way humanity is created to be, grows in the soil of opposition. With the preaching of God’s Word people are saved, and people are angered. The gospel, in the book of Acts, brings both reactions, usually in the same preaching event. As the Church grew, so did the intensity and vitriol of its persecutors. The book begins with Jesus ascended in triumph and the apostles returning to the Temple in joy and ends with Paul chained to a house in Rome awaiting trial. But the Word of God was not chained! It flourished in both opposition and the lack of hindrance.
It is our sure and certain hope, as revealed through this history of the early Church, that God does the miraculous work of raising dead hearts to life, hard hearts to fleshy hearts, of violent men to self-sacrificial men through the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is building His Church, and the violent mobs of social opposition, the narcissistic governors and kings, the rejection and disdain of the social elites, even the gates of Death itself cannot slow Him down. Their foolishness serves His purposes, for He has authority over all things. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, as you go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Look, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Shared by Tim Hunt:
(This article was originally written by David Gundersen and published on June 13, 2020, at https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-reasons-to-come-back-to-church-after-covid-19/ . It is being shared here for your edification.)
Over the past few months, most churches have stopped meeting in person. A global pandemic, government regulations, and a desire to serve each other and society have kept us from gathering. Instead, we’ve held “services” online, met “virtually,” and used technology to connect.
Many churches are now resuming our meetings, or will soon. But these new services feel strange. Our sensitivities are heightened, our differences are on display, and we have to endure restrictions and protocols that are awkward, inconvenient, and frustrating. Then, no matter how safe we make it, some of our church family still can’t come.
With all this in mind, some believers may feel tempted not to come at all. If our restored gatherings are so different and restricted, our online options so available and convenient, and our physical presence a genuine vulnerability, why should we even meet in person?
This is a valid question. But before we make our decisions, we need to reflect on the importance of our gatherings so that our desire to meet grows instead of atrophying.
So unless you’re someone who needs to stay home for health reasons, here are ten reasons to come back to church.
1. We’re embodied creatures.
God made Adam from earth’s soil, Eve from Adam’s side, and humanity from their union (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:18–25; 3:20). We’re embodied souls, male and female, in his image. We’re not ethereal beings made to float in virtual space. We’re not just pixels and screennames, headshots on Zoom and Facetime. We’re human beings. We’re designed to see and hear and taste and touch and feel our way through the physical world God’s made. In recent months, we’ve seen the power of our online world. But we’ve also felt its limitations. No loving couple gladly accepts a “long-distance relationship” as ideal. Neither should a loving church family.
2. The church is one body.
The Bible consistently teaches that the church is Christ’s body on earth (Eph. 1:22–23). Each believer is a different body part, but we’re intricately knitted together (Eph. 4:15–16). We’re not independent but interdependent. Our spiritual gifts are like eyes and ears and hands and feet that each play their part in the body’s growth and mission. Yes, even at a distance, we’re still Christ’s body. But like any healthy body, we shouldn’t want to stay dislocated.
3. The Spirit is drawing us.
Not only are believers one body; we also have one Spirit (Eph 4:4). The Holy Spirit—the third person of the Trinity—inhabits God’s church, and he’s always drawing us toward unity. God’s Spirit can’t be divided, so when believers are separated involuntarily, we feel the tension—like a rubber band stretched too far. The Spirit within us yearns for us to be together, like that same rubber band pulling us back in.
4. We’re a spiritual family.
In the church, God is our adoptive Father, so we’re all spiritual siblings—God’s “household” (1 Tim 3:15). With our different ages and genders, Paul even calls us fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters (1 Tim 5:1–2). But families aren’t meant to be separated. Healthy families live together, laugh together, cry together, and help each other. Parents with grown children love when the adult kids get together—and those parents are only fully satisfied when everyone’s present. We must be faithful during this season to reach out to those who can’t safely join us. But all who are able should seek to gather for our life-giving family reunions.
5. Preaching is a sacred moment.
Our generation is used to John Piper sermons and Beth Moore videos and Ravi Zacharias clips. Phones and screens and apps are now our default medium. In just three months, we’ve even grown used to watching our own pastors and leaders teach God’s word through WiFi and glass. In this digital environment, we must remember that preaching is fundamentally a live, sacred moment (Acts 20:20, 27). Yes, it can be streamed and recorded and posted, benefiting both virtual attendees and future hearers. But for a local family of believers, God’s word is best communicated live as the Spirit empowers an appointed preacher and trusted shepherd to articulate God’s word personally in a moment pregnant with purpose and possibility. In these moments, pastors shepherd their own sheep, and sheep hear the voice of their shepherds. In these moments, we’re struck not only by the content of the message but also the gravity of the moment. When we hear God’s word taught in a congregation, we resonate not only with our risen Lord and his royal word, but with each other. A feast enjoyed together is better than food eaten alone.
We’re human beings. We’re designed to see and hear and taste and touch and feel our way through the physical world God’s made.
6. There’s nothing like singing together.
There’s no experience on earth like congregational singing (Ps 95:1–2). Singing together glorifies God by re-enthroning him in the hearts of his people. Singing together brands our minds with truth and warms our hearts with grace. Singing together symbolizes our unity as we harmonize over the gospel. Singing together expresses our emotions to God (and we have lots of emotions right now). But we don’t just sing to glorify God; we also sing to encourage each other (Col 3:16). And we can’t sing to each other through a screen. Yes, we’re vulnerable: Congregational singing could get an American Christian infected, just like it could get a Chinese Christian arrested. But like the underground church has always done, God’s people will figure out how to praise him together, as faithfully and safely as possible. We’ll wear masks, or clean the air, or meet outside, or recite psalms, or even whisper. But ultimately, God will hear the rising praises of the Christian church, and it will be good if we’re there to express them together.
7. We need baptisms and communion.
Whether your church has practiced these ordinances “virtually” or not, every believer needs to see and taste these gracious symbols so that we can sense the gospel story once again. Baptism and communion remind us that God communicates to us in sensory ways. In these two ordinances, we taste and touch and see and hear the gospel, whether the splash of water in a baptismal tank as a new believer dies and rises with Christ, or the broken bread and crushed grapes that feed us with the remembrance of his sacrifice (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 11:26). The way we practice these things may look different for a season, but our hearts will need them more than we know.
8. You have a job to do.
If you’re a believer, you have a job to do when the church gathers. The work of ministry isn’t mainly for pastors and leaders. It’s for every Christian. Every believer has spiritual gifts meant to be used, and every church body desperately needs every body part to be active (Rom 12:4–8; Eph 4:15–16; 1 Pet 4:10–11). When we stay home, we can still listen and give and call and text virtually. But there are many ways we simply can’t serve or encourage or build up Christ’s body unless we’re physically present.
9. Our worship is a witness.
Each week our friends and neighbors and coworkers walk through the same broken world we do, but without our hope and our map. Each week they suffer challenges and tragedies that make them wonder where grace and truth can be found. Yes, there are ways we can minister to them online, and we should rejoice that God’s now reaching new people with new methods. But the unbelieving world also needs to see the gospel’s transforming power embodied in a local family of Christians who love God and serve each other in the most gracious and gritty ways.
10. Greetings change lives.
It may seem strange to end with the act of greeting—a simple activity that’s become so restricted and complicated. But all over the New Testament, the writers not only greet the churches but ask Christians to greet each other. These greetings aren’t just an afterthought tacked onto the end of their letters. These greetings symbolize the reconciling power of the gospel and foster our family dynamic. The way we greet each other—and the fact that we greet each other—is central to the church’s life and witness. Happy greetings remind us of the gospel unity we enjoy in Christ. Awkward greetings declare that the healthy church shows no partiality. Avoided greetings remind us to resolve our conflicts and reconcile our hearts. Every greeting reflects God’s love, reunites Christ’s body, enables hospitality, cultivates selflessness, opens doors for ministry, and bears witness to the God who’s welcomed us through Christ. Even if these greetings are masked, touchless, and distanced, they’re still life-shaping micro-events in every church. Just recently, our church held an outdoor worship service in our parking lot after not meeting for ten weeks. What were the happiest, most explosive moments? Our greetings. We need to see each other.
You may not be able to return right away. You might need to exercise caution for yourself or those you love. You might need to keep watching from a distance for a while. But when the time is right, God’s people can and must gather again, and I hope you’ll join in. After all, our gatherings are ultimately a taste of heaven. The Bible’s vision of heaven doesn’t look like a quarantine, a livestream, or a Zoom call. It’s a “face to face” encounter with the risen Christ and a worshipful reunion of both saints and angels (Heb 12:22–23; Rev 22:4). In the life to come, we won’t be siloed and segregated in mansions of glory, but living and working and loving and serving together in a new world where righteousness dwells (2 Pet 3:13). So once we know it’s safe, wise, and no disservice to our communities, let’s gather together again—in person—until all things are new.
David Gundersen is the author of What If I Don’t Feel Like Going to Church?.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. - Luke 15:20b
From Jack Miller’s book, Saving Grace, entry June 13th.
Before we consider what repentance is, think about what it isn’t. Repentance does not pay for sin. It’s not about being plagued with guilt. True repentance does not lead to a deeper mire. It doesn’t refuse to give up what’s been repented of. Repentance is not a legal thing or an emotional thing.
So, what is repentance?
According to the parable of the prodigal son, there are two aspects of repentance: the first is waking up, coming to one’s senses, and regaining sanity. It is insanity to live for this world as if it were eternal when it’s not. The parable of the prodigal is a parable about the Father’s riches of love. You can’t live as though God’s world or anything in it is your; it all belongs to him. In fact, the best and only real thing to own is the Father himself.
The second aspect of repentance begins with being truly sorry for your sin and recognizing that your sin is ultimately against God. In this change of heart, you confess the whole truth about your sin and unworthiness. The only way you can do this is if you have a Father who loves you like the father in the parable loved his son. Repentance cannot be separated from the amazing love of a holy God.