From Richard Roberts:
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 worship, we are worshippers. And God is less interested in the acts between 10:30 and noon on Sunday morning than He is in the heart and activities during the rest of the week, because those are more revelatory of what we are actually worshipping.
What is worship? Worship is the highest form of love. We worship what we love the most, what we want the most, what we delight in the most. 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. 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.
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 value Him rightly, to see Him in truth, 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.
Worship, then, is a response to this revelation. We respond in worship to the revelation of who God is and what God has done. How are we to respond? “He is worthy of our time.” Worship, i.e. “worth+ship”. 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 an article by Nancy Guthrie from Crossway.org
From Karl Felten:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!
The events of the last few months have been challenging for many, in a variety of ways. The COVID-19 outbreak across the world has impacted people physically, financially, and socially. In addition, there are varying opinions on what is the best way to respond to the pandemic and these differing thoughts have, at times, caused frustration and anger. To further add to the strange times we now live in, our country has faced great civil unrest as it comes to grips with the racism that exists in our world and how best to respond to it. As followers of Jesus Christ, who put our trust in God’s sovereignty and grace, we know that He is in control amidst our pain, confusion, and frustration. In fact, despite the challenges due to the pandemic and isolation, some very real blessings have come out of this situation. I would like to share with you some of the blessings my family has experienced during this time of quarantine.
Over the last few months of isolation, my family has had more time to spend together. This extra time together has been spent playing games, watching various TV shows and movies, and spending time at the kitchen table talking. During one of these talks, we discussed setting aside some time to read and study God’s word as a family. I am sad to say we never have had a regular, dedicated time of family Bible study, but it is never too late to start!
We decided to meet as often as we could, since we had the time, and settled on meeting after dinner on five nights per week. I cannot express how wonderful it has been to dig deep into the Scripture with my family and talk about the implications the Word has in our daily lives.
We have been aided greatly by the lessons and study materials available from the RightNow Media access we have through EBF. Using the RightNow Media lessons and study guides have made our Bible study easier. They have done all the prep work and we were able to jump into the Scripture study right away. If you have not tried it out already, I encourage you to take a look at this fantastic resource if you need help or inspiration in starting to study.
In addition to diving deep into God’s Word, our family times have allowed us to spend time praying for each other. This has been an added blessing as it has allowed us to be vulnerable and express our love and support for each other as we brought our hopes, desires, pains, and praises to the Lord.
Without the quarantine and isolation, I am not sure my family would have been able to come together for this regular Bible study. Unfortunately, the busyness of “normal” life may have kept us from realizing our need for it. However, now that we have experienced the blessing of studying God’s Word as a family, I am grateful to God that He opened my eyes to how wonderful it is. I know of at least one other EBF family who has been able to use this isolation time to meet together each Sunday to explore and discuss the teaching from Pastor Richard’s on-line sermons, and to pray. I am sure there are other families who have found wonderful blessings during this time of isolation, concern, and unrest. I hope this has been an encouragement for you!
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
From Richard Roberts:
I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep my eyes upon the sovereignty of the Lord, upon His goodness and promises to His people, and upon the real chaos underneath the visible chaos. Underneath every hateful word and hateful act, and under every abuse of power and seizing of control by force, there is an Enemy who seeks to destroy God's image-bearers, to kill them, and to steal the joy and peace from them.
John received a vision on the island of Patmos which he wrote down for our benefit in the book called "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." In the 12th and 13th chapters, John sees a Great Dragon who seeks to kill the Son of God and His people in his rage (12:17). But he also sees that the Dragon raises up a puppet government made up of all kingdoms of the earth (13:1-2) whose was "allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them" (13:7). Thus, the governing systems of our evil present age are not as independent as they believe. In 13:11 a second puppet arise, a spirit of false religion which denies Jesus and seeks to gain power over all men. So, beneath the dominant power structures of this world, militarily, politically, philosophically, there lies a greater threat, which is not new, but ancient.
So, what shall we do? The angel in John's vision tells us, "this is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints." (13:10) We hang on to Christ Jesus. We keep our lamps lit for the Master's return. We do not take vengeance into our own hands, because it belongs to God. We do not fret or fear to the point of giving upon Him, but we take our fears and anxieties to him and read chapter 14, "Then I looked, and 'BEHOLD!', the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were one hundred and forty-four thousand, who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads."
My friends, the whole of God's people, 12 by 12 by 10 by 10 by 10, the fullness of the saints, are marked out by God as HIS OWN, as belonging to Him!! This world is not our home and this age is not our age, for we belong to the Lamb's Father and are protected by the Lamb Himself. Where are these saints standing? "With Him!" We are "with Him"! The endurance and faith of the saints places us in the company of the greatest One who will one day destroy that Dragon underneath all the evil and chaos and fruitlessness of this world.
We must learn to see what is underneath and what God has said about it. The Lamb has triumphed! And He will triumph! In the meantime, He has given us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to help us remember His words and promises, His commands of how we are to live in this present evil age, how to testify to His grace to the lost and to those who treat us as enemies, and to strengthen us to endure through faith until His return. This promise of the Holy Spirit was given by Him to give us peace, as He told His disciples, "I have told you these things [concerning the Helper] so that you might have peace. In the world you will have much oppression. But, cheer up! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Let us look to the eternal things today, and remember the Dragon's Demise is coming quickly and the Wedding of the Lamb is near.
The fearsome fire of taunting terror
roaming the face of the earth
seeking someone to devour
to and fro heart to hearth
Roar and fluff of pride and stuff
of bluster full with wind
a toothless scowl and harmless growl
that wields a Cheshire grin
You've been undone from tip to tail
full desecration nail to scale
no more to harm or fool to charm
by hollow sore or grim travail
The narrow stake has power take
all glory from your light
withered gone plunged fire headlong
into the Lake stoked white
From Richard Roberts:
Luke Davis’s book, “Tough Issues: True Hope”, mentions an ethical question raised by Gregory Stock in his book, The Book of Questions. In it, he asks, “Assume there were a technological breakthrough that would all ow people to travel as easily and cheaply between continents as between nearby cities. Unfortunately, there would also be 100,000 deaths per year from the device. Would you try to prevent its use?”
There are always tradeoffs to technological advances. The first X-Rays were discovered in 1895, and the next year the “Electrical Review reported that Dr HD Hawks, a graduate of the 1896 class of Columbia College, gave a demonstration with a powerful X-ray unit in the vicinity of New York. After 4 days, he was compelled to stop work. He noticed a drying of the skin, which he ignored. The hand began to swell and gave the appearance of a deep skin burn. After 2 weeks the skin came off the hand, the knuckles become very sore, fingernail growth stopped and the hair on the skin exposed to X-rays fell out. His eyes were bloodshot and his vision became considerably impaired. His chest was also burnt.” (link)
Dr. Stock later connected his earlier question when noted, “In the mid 1800’s, had you been able to look into the future and see that the automobile would cause five million fatalities in the next century, how would you have felt about this new device?” That comes out to about 100,000 deaths per year.
Of course, over the years there have been added safety features to our automobiles and our roads, but it still requires wisdom and caution and rules to avoid the dangers of driving an automobile, and even though 1/3 of car accidents occur within 5 miles from home, we are still more likely to drive to the store than walk or ride a bike, because of convenience. And even with these statistics, we value convenience to a greater degree than we would acknowledge, as is shown by how we answered the first question posed by Dr. Stock.
This battle between convenience and danger is something that I have found, for myself, must apply to my use of social media, general media, and online access. I’m not saying that the convenience of the internet, or of access to social media connections, is harmful, but that it, like every other technological innovation, comes with dangers and undesirable outcomes. Over the years, I have found myself checking the same sites multiple times a day to see if people had responded to my posts, or my articles, or even these blogs. Wanting to be affirmed, to be respected, to be considered wise, it became very easy to become dominated by the need for affirmation and the fear of losing it. Therefore, I had to remove myself from social media and limit my time online. It became an obsession, a repetitive and dominating spiritual drug, and it pulled my gaze off of what God has revealed to be true.
I also found that one of the benefits of instant access to information is efficiency and ease. However, it is also true that a side effect of this expediency is the lack of discernment between what information is good information and what is faulty. Our preponderance to consume information, and not evaluate it, can lead to our deception. Journalism is now less concerned with accuracy and truth and more concerned with being the first one to the story, to ratings and online hits, so there is less incentive to reason through what is true and more incentive to throw out a headline that will make the most money. And if I'm honest, it's much easier just to read headlines and synopses than it is to truly evaluate something. And our opinions are now formed without evaluation, which has become a huge problem in our society.
This speed of information can be dangerous to us. It is hard to slow down, but it is good to slow down. It is easy to get on our phones the first thing in the morning and set the motion of our day upon the here and now and to be over-influenced by the present age, which the Scriptures call this present evil age (Galatians 1:4), and under-influenced by eternity and what God has revealed about what truly lasts.
I am not advocating an eradication of our use of social media or our online presence. But I do want us to beware of its dangers, of drawing away our hope towards things which cannot deliver and which can enslave us in despair and hopelessness. It is good to evaluate what is ultimately true and eternal. It is good to evaluate where I am placing my functional hope.
Where are we getting our information for hope? Where are we assuming that we will find explanations for the human heart, for social ills, for what can redeem the brokenness in us and around us? Have we slipped into ignorance of the dangers that the craving for affirmation can produce through our Facebook likes, our Instagram followers, and our YouTube comments?
We are redeemed from this kind of striving and secure in the Kingdom of Christ Jesus. Our hope is not in the security of this world or the affirmation of Twitter retweets. Our hope is in the renewing of this world, of the New Heavens and the New Earth which God will create through His Son. Our hope, our only hope, is in what God has done, is doing, and will do, through Him. We can use social media for good, but let us be aware of the dangers that it holds and take the proper precautions, as those who have been raised with Christ Jesus, to “Seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not the things upon the earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)
“Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Abba, Father, everything is possible with you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.
From Rich Carroll:
The Garden of Gethsemane was an olive grove whose olives were picked each season (still today) and turned into the finished product of oil that served so many purposes. In order for the pure virgin oil to be squeezed out of the olives they had to be crushed by a stone called a gethsemane, thus the name of the garden.
After taking part in that last supper and the washing of His disciple's feet, Jesus led them out to this garden where He was overcome with grief and sadness. In the midst of this darkness the King of the Universe fell down to the ground and cried out to His Father to take this cup away from Him. The cup of His Father's wrath and judgement upon the whole world was on Jesus' shoulders. In asking that it be taken from Him, Jesus, as both fully divine and fully human, casts His heart before His 'Abba' that this suffering might pass from Him. What a gut wrenching struggle! Suffering beyond comparison. And in the midst of this inward turmoil and fight Jesus repeats these words at 3 different times of prayer: "Yet not what I will, but what you will."
He is crushed and the oil of our salvation and redemption comes pouring out of His heart in Jesus' words of submission. "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a son, he learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him..." Hebrews 5:7-9
Our freedom that was secured at the cross was won at Gethsemane. There was no other way. "Not my will but yours be done." Yes, you and I are loved this much.
Desiring God ministries has a wonderful video series called "Look at the Book" (LAB) with John Piper. He walks us through interpreting the Scriptures all the way through its purpose: to worship the Lord. Consider subscribing to their YouTube channel, which you can reach through the video below.
From Tim Hunt:
As we continue the long slow process of returning to some measure of “normal” in our gathered worship, it is easy for us to allow some of the “noise” in our hearts to override and control our outlook and perspective (what we are thinking), which then influences our words and behavior (our actions).
The voices may sound something like these things:
“It’s taking too long!”
“Why can’t the health experts be more consistent in their assessments?”
“What if I get sick?”
“Is the government overreaching?”
“Have I been too silent or ignored the evils of racism?”
“Will my job or my business ever come back?”
“I feel so alone and isolated from everyone.”
These are just a sampling of the kinds of voices we might be listening to, but when one or more of these “voices” takes over or dominates our thinking it can produce fear, worry, anxiety, frustration, discontent or discouragement. And that can often result in grumbling and complaining over many things, even good things like gathering together. I want to meet face to face, to draw near with a handshake and a hug as one body, in unity to sing the Bible, to preach the Bible, and to pray the Bible to each other. These things done in this manner are a great encouragement to the hearts of each one of us.
But now we are enduring a different challenge. How do we encourage each other from a distance or with a mask? How can we still help each other, from afar, quiet the “noise” that competes for our attention?
That is exactly what Paul does in most of his letters by pointing his readers to the God of encouragement. Romans 15:1-13 is filled with encouragement and hope especially in the context of how we are to respond to those who are weaker in conscience and faith. Here Paul shifts the focus from our own selves and our own concerns to the needs of others for their good, and by doing so we are imitating Christ. But this is not a matter of simply applying some sort of behavioral modifications, but rather a change of heart brought about through the indwelling word of God administered by the power of His Spirit. The instructive Word of God was not given to weigh us down with more “rules” of behavior but for our hope through perseverance and encouragement of its beautiful promises. This is granted to us by the God of encouragement. If you were to ask me to name the attributes of God, I’m not sure how far down my list you would find encouragement, or if it would even be on the list.
Verse 4 reminds me that if I am considering a passage of Scripture carefully and I come away still feeling frustrated or discouraged, I am not yet done with the passage. Or better yet, the passage is not done with me. Nothing that was written to us is detached from the intention of God to cultivate hope and encouragement in His people. Notice that in verse 8 it is Christ’s condescension and humiliation in taking the role of a servant to his people that confirms the promises of a redeemer, a new covenant, eternal life, life the way it was meant to be lived. All of which is sufficient reason to praise God for his mercy. When our minds are set on these realities our soul is encouraged and filled with hope.
The same encouragement from the Word of God can be found in Hebrews 10:19-25. Notice the repetition of “since we…”
Since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…Since we have hearts that have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
You can feel right away that things are building, that there is a movement towards something. Here are these massive pillars of gospel grounding realities that never move and are never shaken.
Therefore, in light of these truths, let us draw near, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds not forsaking our “togetherness,” but rather encouraging one another...
So when these passages and others like them cease to be just words that we read but which leap off the page and become operational in our lives it is going to change the way we interact with each other. It will sound more like, “I know you have struggled with temptation this week, I know you are weary from sin, I know you are suffering, I know you are discouraged and frustrated. But there is great news! We have a savior that has provided refuge and refreshment for your soul.” A hope that is rooted in His great gospel promises and provisions and we never get tired of telling this story. It must be told often for it is the only story that is sufficient to bear the weight of our sin cursed lives and our need for mercy.
Michael Horton writes –
“When it comes to our standing before God we need a report more than a new resource. Everyone is born into this world as God’s image-bearer with a consciousness of being created for God’s glory. However suppressed it is an inescapable fact of our existence. When we hear that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, our conscience is pricked, we have fallen short of God’s glory and our chief end seems more characteristically defined by enjoying ourselves, perhaps with God’s help. We need to know our purpose in life but we should be under no illusion that we are pulling it off. At this point the only message that qualifies as good news is that Christ has fulfilled his purpose as our representative and has made us sharers in both his justification and resurrection life so that one day we will also share in his glory.”
Brothers and sisters we cannot OD on encouragement. You need it and I need it. So whatever noise is troubling you this COVID season, remember David’s answer to a troubled soul:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not lifted too high,
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me;
I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever. (Ps 131)
From Richard Roberts:
I am never surprised at the capacity of my heart to complain and become embittered. It is so common to see the evils of others and to avert my gaze from the good. This is especially true when we have been personally wounded by someone, whether justly or unjustly. We can stew in our resentment, continually reflecting on the wounds and those who have caused them. In this process we sometimes cherry pick their behavior and words, unconsciously choosing to believe only the evils and none of the good. This, of course, is simply pride at its root, rearing its ugly double-head of self-pity and self-righteousness. I imagine that this is what was happening in Philippi, seething bitterness that resulted in silent despondency of joyless anxiety and prayerless resistance to honor one another.
When we find ourselves in this place of bitterness, we are told how to correct it. We are to change what we value. We are to consider, which is an accounting term, meaning to "reckon" or "evaluate something as worthy", the virtues of Christ and to evaluate our own thoughts and reckonings according to those virtues before we act and speak towards others. In Philippians 4:8 there is a list of these virtues that can help correct us in our thinking and our speaking by asking some pertinent questions in these trying and evil times today.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, reckon these things.”
Before we speak, and before we react, we need to stop and “reckon” what is worthy. I think that we need to be asking better questions regarding how we use our words and what we believe to be worth saying. Rather than claiming that I am free to speak, which is true, God has called us to something greater than mere freedom of speech. He has called us to gracious speech (Colossians 4:6). Maybe these questions are helpful to that end. Before we speak, let us ask:
These are the things which Paul says should be “accounted”, or “worthy of saying”. And there is a great promise attached to such behavior, in verse 9, “and the peace of God will be with you.”
We must guard our hearts from harboring bitterness and anger due to self-righteous defensiveness, rather than harboring the things of Christ in the anchorages of our hearts. How do we create peace? We weigh, we reckon, we value, the things of Jesus Christ as the most significant things in our relationships with one another. You see, Jesus is True. He is Noble. He is Just. He is pure. He is winsome. He is commended by God. He is morally excellent. He is helpful.
We create peace when we value Jesus Christ as worthy of our attention, our love, our affections, our hopes, and our delight. We need to fix our eyes upon Jesus and not upon the chaos of the world, the injustices against us, those who are clamoring for us to reckon them as worthy. We must see the goodness of Jesus so that we do applaud what is good, both in the world around us and in the Church, decrying all injustice while also constantly praising the good.
And above all, the power to “do these things” comes from the power of God’s own Holy Spirit working within us “to will and to work according to His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Therefore, let us spend our thoughts on the greatest of good, the highest of the praiseworthy, the most laudable of all that is excellent: Jesus, the Christ, the hope of the nations and the Redeemer of all that is broken. Let us imbibe on His person, this just and Almighty God who came down to redeem sinners by laying down His own life in our place.
Let us consider His grace towards us, so that we might be gracious in our speech and actions towards others, even when we must say “stop” and call out injustice. What kind of God is this that dies for His enemies? Who is this that mercifully provides for His ungrateful image-bearers? That is the one true God! Fill your minds with the virtues of Jesus and the God of peace will be with us, among us, to secure unity in the knowledge of Him, and bring us into the fullness of what we are supposed to be as humans: like Christ Jesus.
Jesus said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." (John 13:10)
From Richard Roberts:
I read this verse while studying for this week's sermon. What struck me was the idea of "cleanness."
Today we are making so many efforts to avoid touch, because of the possibility of contamination, of uncleanness. You touch somebody with a virus, you become unclean, you get the virus.
However, what Jesus is telling his disciples here is that His touch works in the opposite. Rather than our uncleanness making him unclean, His touch is so potent, so pure, so holy, that it purifies us! His touch cleans us. It is His touch which cures us of any cause of our shame, whether we feel unclean because of what we have done, or because of what has been done to us by someone else. The touch of Jesus cleans us, so that there is no need for further cleansing, no more fear of being made unclean, and no stain of shame which is not lifted by His gentle hand.
This is such a freeing thought for those of us who struggle with feelings of being unclean and the assumption that God must be disgusted with us because of what we've touched. But we must remember that those who have been touched by Jesus are wholly and perfectly clean. So, you can rest, o weary soul, from your fears and anxieties, your doubts and your shame, because "you are clean" by the touch of the perfectly Pure One.
From Rich Carroll:
Jack Miller's devotional from the June 3rd entry of a collection called Saving Grace was helpful to me. Here it is:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are those who are righteous, for they shall be satisfied.” His whole Sermon on the Mount is about how obedience to the law is not only about behavior, but also about heart orientation. What God calls us to is not a pharisaic self-righteousness. The Pharisees were nice, decent people, but they missed the inward and upward and outward relationship of Jesus’s teaching.
If you are a true believer, your response to Jesus’s words should be “Help!” Those who know their inability to be righteous, and ask for help, will be blessed. The very idea of eating and drinking is that what you need comes from outside yourself. You don’t have the righteousness God requires, and, therefore, this is what you long for. Jesus wants us to have an appetite for, to long for, what we do not have – the righteousness that comes from him. It is blessed to long for what Jesus wants to give you. It is blessed to be dissatisfied. It is blessed to aim for perfection. You are not going to be perfect in this life, but you aim for it because that’s what Jesus commands. You work for it, you long for it, and you put off your sins. That’s what it means to have an appetite for God.
A Liturgy by Douglas McKelvey and Ned Bustard:
Christ Our King,
Our world is overtaken by unexpected
calamity, and by a host of attending fears,
worries, and insecurities.
We witness suffering, confusion, and
hardship multiplied around us, and we find
ourselves swept up in these same anxieties and
troubles, dismayed by so many uncertainties.
Now we turn to you, O God,
in this season of our common distress.
Be merciful, O Christ, to those who suffer,
to those who worry, to those who grieve, to
those who are threatened or harmed in any
way by this upheaval. Let your holy compassions
be active throughout the world even now--
tending the afflicted, comforting the
brokenhearted, and bringing hope to
many who are hopeless.
Use even these hardships to woo our hearts
nearer to you, O God.
Indeed, O Father, may these days
of disquiet become a catalyst
for conviction and repentance,
for the tendering of our affections,
for the stirring of our sympathies,
for the refining of our love.
We are your people, who are called by you,
We need not be troubled or alarmed.
Indeed, O Lord, let us love now more fearlessly,
remembering that you created us,
and appointed us
to live in these very places,
in the midst of these unsettled times.
It is no surprise to you that we are here now,
sharing in this turmoil along with the rest of
our society, for you have called your children
to live as salt and light among the nations,
praying and laboring for the flourishing of the
communities where we dwell, acting as agents of
your forgiveness, salvation, healing, reconciliation,
and hope, in the very midst of an often-troubled world.
And in these holy vocations
you have not left us helpless, O Lord,
because you have not left us at all.
Your Spirit remains among us.
Inhabit now your church, O Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Unite and equip your people for the work before them.
Father, empower your children to live as your children.
In times of distress let us respond, not as those
who would instinctively entrench for our own
self-preservation, but rather as those who—in imitation
of their Lord—would move in humble obedience toward
the needs and hurts of their neighborhoods and communities.
You were not ashamed to share in our sufferings, Jesus.
Let us now be willing to share in yours, serving
as your visible witnesses in this broken world.
Hear now these words, you children of God,
and be greatly encouraged:
The Lord’s throne in heaven is yet occupied,
his rule is eternal, and his good purposes
on earth will be forever accomplished.
So we need never be swayed by the brief and
passing panics of this age.
You are the King of the Ages, O Christ,
and history is held in your Father’s hands.
We, your people, know the good and glorious
end of this story. Our heavenly hope is secure.
In this time of widespread suffering then,
let us rest afresh in the surpassing peace of that
vision, that your whole church on earth might be
liberated to love more generously and sacrificially.
Now labor in and through us, O Lord, extending and
multiplying the many expressions of your mercy.
From Richard Roberts:
Thomas Brooks was a Puritan pastor in London in the 17th century of whom Charles Spurgeon said, "scatters stars with both hands." His work entitled, "Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices" breaks down Satan's consistent tactics to divert Christians from keeping their eyes upon Christ Jesus. In his introduction, what he calls a dedicatory, he has the following explanation of his heart for those whom he has been called to serve. His words speak of my heart, too, as your pastor, so I share them with you (with underlines added by me). I hope that you hear, then, the echo of the 'Amen' from my own heart in the quill of our brother, Thomas Brooks.
My desires for you are, "that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:16-19) "
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." (Col. 1:10-12)
"That you do no evil." (2 Cor. 13:7);
"That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment."
"That you may approve things that are excellent, that you may be sincere, and without offence until the day of Christ." (Phil. 1:27, 4:1)
That "our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power."
"That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 1:11, 12)
And that you may be eminent in sanctity, sanctity being Zion's glory (Psalm 93:5); that your hearts may be kept upright, your judgments sound, and your lives unblamable. That as you are now "my joy", so in the day of Christ you may be "my crown"; that I may see my labors in your lives; that your lives may not be earthly, when the things you hear are heavenly; but that it may be "as becomes the gospel" (Phil. 1:9, 10).
That as the fish which live in the salt sea yet are fresh, so you, though you live in an ungodly world, may yet be godly and loving; that you may, like the bee, suck honey out of every flower; that you may shine in a sea of troubles, as the pearl shines in the sky, though it grows in the sea; that in all your trials you may shine like the stone in Thracia, which neither burns in the fire nor sinks in the water; that you may be like the heavens, excellent in substance and beautiful in appearance; that so you may meet me with joy in that day wherein Christ shall say to his Father, "Lo, here am I, and the children that you have given me" (Is. 8:18).
My desires to you are--That you would make it your business to study Christ, his Word, your own hearts, Satan's plots, and eternity--more than ever. That you would endeavor more to be inwardly sincere than outwardly glorious; to live, than to have a mere name to live. That you would labor with all your might to be thankful under mercies, and faithful in your places, and humble under divine appearances, and fruitful under precious ordinances. That as your means and mercies are greater than others--so your account before God may not prove a worse than others.
That you would pray for me, who am not worthy to be named among the saints, that I may be a precious instrument in the hand of Christ to bring in many souls unto him, and to build up those who are brought in, in their most holy faith; and "that utterance may be given to me, that I may make known all the will of God" (Eph. 6:19); that I may be sincere, faithful, frequent, fervent and constant in the work of the Lord, and that my labor be not in vain in the Lord; that my labors may be accepted in the Lord and his saints, and I may daily see the travail of my soul.
But, above all, pray for me--that I may more and more find the power and sweet of those things upon my own heart, that I give out to you and others; that my soul may be so visited with strength from on high, that I may live up fully and constantly to those truths that I hold forth to the world; and that I may be both in life and doctrine "a burning and a shining light," that so, when the Lord Jesus shall appear, "I may receive a crown of glory which he shall give to me in that day, and not only to me, but to all who love his appearing." (John 5:35 and 2 Tim. 1:8).
For a close, remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of well-doing, and heaven shall make amends for all!
I shall now take leave of you, when my heart has by my hand subscribed, that I am, your loving pastor under Christ, according to all pastoral affections and engagements in our dearest Lord,
Thomas Brooks (and upon his coat tails, Richard Roberts)
...any assumption which puts a person into a different category than I place myself, and that category somehow makes them more worthy of suffering or less worthy of dignity than myself, I am not merely being sinful, I am being anti-Christ.
From Richard Roberts:
I read a tweet by Herschel York this week, whom I do not know, but it was a tweet to which I immediately related as a pastor and public preacher. He said,
“Every time I feel led to tweet, post, or preach anything about racism, I have to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for the pushback, “yeah, buts,” and smug replies I get. Folks, this shouldn’t even be controversial among the people of God.”
In like fashion Mark Dever also posted,
“Something I’ve noticed about my posts – some of you seem to appreciate them, except when you seem surprised or offended when I post something about racism. But racism is blasphemy against the Creator, violating the commands both to love neighbor, and to love God!”
I, too, feel the conflict and trepidation that York notes, knowing that when I post a clear Scriptural principle about the evils of excluding and distinguishing persons based upon the color of their skin, I know that I will get some, “yeah, buts” along with some kind of red herring justification of why such a principle shouldn’t apply in every situation.
But, here’s the thing: any assumption which puts a person into a different category than I place myself, and that category somehow makes them more worthy of suffering or less worthy of dignity than myself, I am not merely being sinful, I am being anti-Christ.
I say this because of what the Spirit teaches us in Ephesians 2:11-16, that it is only the grace of God which brings us near to God as accepted and as friends. Nothing else. Not my ability to obey any laws, not my ability to succeed in this world, and surely not any inherent nature in me or any experience within my history.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:11-16)
The apostle is very clear that Christ came to abolish the distinctions of value that we have placed upon our own moral success and our own genetic profiles. Literally, He “made one new humanity” out of those who were distinguished by race and by law by being the only means of our reconciliation with God morally and spiritually. Nothing else gives us any superiority.
In fact, the gospel of the Cross, that Jesus had to die for Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor, all equally and by the same manner, shows us that any sense of superiority or inferiority is essentially dismissive of Him, and therefore of God.
That’s not a little thing! It is not a little thing to dismiss Jesus and His Cross! It’s not a little thing to work against His purposes, and that is exactly what such superiority and inferiority do.
Therefore, all racism and classism must be abolished from the Church. It must be silenced by the Cross and not justified or excused because of some broken law or some sin on the “other side.” Such things simply do not excuse such dismissing of the Gospel of grace.
All disdain. All stereotypical comments, i.e. “those people”. All feelings of superiority and inferiority are to be expelled, condemned, and judged as anti-Christ. We cannot allow distinctions of worth to be set upon individuals or families based upon anything other than Jesus’ shed blood and righteousness: not money, now law-abiding, not possessions, not history, not language, NOTHING.
Look at the text. The issue is law-keeping, isn’t it? What are the implications of this? We who know the gospel of Jesus Christ, of the grace of God appearing, of His mercy towards sinners who were, by nature, children of wrath, separated from God, know the implications. People are not worthwhile because they observe the law. They are worthwhile because they are made in the image of God and He loves them. The Son of God was sent for sinners, to seek them, and to save them. We do not, therefore, make separations between “them” and “us” on the basis of any law, but only on the basis of Christ.
Does this mean there is no place for corrective discipline? Of course not! Does it mean that we are silent when we see sin? NO! But we speak correction because we know that sin harms the sinner and diminishes Christ. In the church, we discipline according to the standard of the law of Christ Jesus. It is for the sake of the sinner that we speak, not simply to judge him as though he were inferior to us.
So, let us look upon the “other” through the person and work of Jesus! He reconciles both to God! And this is through the cross.
The Church, the New Humanity, is completely a creative act of God! In fact, Paul uses the word “create” here (v15) in evoke the creative act of God (Genesis 14:19) who made Heaven and Earth. This is HIS work. John Murry says, “While our death is our fate, his death is his deed.”
And one doing of His death is the ‘killing of the hostility’ between races. The cross creates a new community by eliminating the causes of contentions between otherwise distinct enemies, because the only basis that we have for our standing before God and before each other is the blood of Jesus Christ for us all equally. The Church is the foremost act of God “bringing all things together under Him.” We ought to be exemplifying reconciliation and sympathetic understanding of our desperation and need, not our distinctions and delinquencies.
Note that Paul tells us that both, the law-keepers and the law-breakers, the religious and the irreligious, every race and culture, needed the preaching of peace. Regardless of our knowledge or ignorance, our experience or inexperience, our honor or shame, we were all enemies of God who needed peace to be proclaimed from God to us.
And this is the Good News, right? That we can approach the Father through the Spirit of Christ alone, on the basis of Christ alone, with equal access and impartial access to the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in our time of need, whatever our peril may be.
Thus, if you can categorize yourself like the Scripture does: sinners in need of grace, period, then this gospel is good news. It is good news for failures, for law-breakers, for the law-keepers, for the religious and the irreligious, for the African, the European, the Asian, the American, the man, the woman, the child, the beautiful, the deformed, the poor, the rich…but always to the humble.
REMEMBER who you were! You were once separated from God and without hope in the world. RELATE to others as one who is saved by grace and brought near to God only through the blood of Jesus and nothing else! REJOICE in Jesus for that grace at His own expense! RETURN your worship and your joy to the Lord for His wonderful and amazing gift of grace towards sinners like you!
“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of
humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one
can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without
overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the
sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from
the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.”
– Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
From Richard Roberts:
Seeing ourselves as inherently righteous is the nature of the human heart. Sure, we may have problems, but not as big of problems as “those people” have. We see this in the atrocious treatment of George Floyd. Some people acknowledge the mistreatment of George, but quickly turn to making some kind of excuse, or at least a lesser rationalization of why it happened other than simply state that the treatment that led to his death is unjustifiable even if he had committed a crime. Others justify the destruction of property belonging to those who did not participate in George's killing by claiming that "those people are part of the bigger problem." Do you see the principle here? Both sides see the other side as the real problem and their own justification of evil as a little thing.
While obviously without the tragic outcomes of George’s killing, we all do this. We rationalize our sin as “little” and those other people’s as “bigger”, the real problem. Drawing this line between “big” sins and “little” sins is the way the human heart works and it does so in opposition to God.
This is what Volf is referring to in the quote above. That in order for us to justify ourselves we have to somehow exclude the others from the community of humans and pragmatically exclude ourselves from the community of sinners. By re-framing the categories we can look at others as “what’s wrong with the world”, no matter which side of any position that we find ourselves. The only difference between a conservative position and a liberal position is simply where you draw the line between “big” sins and “little” sins and thus labeling others “inhumane” and ourselves “just human.” But either way we are looking at other sinners rather than at the holy God.
Because, ultimately, this “double exclusion” is really just a means of wanting to justify ourselves and avoid the reality that compared to God's standards I am an utter failure. Then, I can functionally escape the necessity of humility, the truth that I have nothing within me for which God should welcome me, except His great mercy. It's just a way of functionally and practically avoiding the necessity of the Cross of Jesus Christ for me and people like me. But, the Cross of Jesus shows that my sin was so great that Jesus had to die for me. The necessity of the Cross confronts all people equally.
Like Volf says, “no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion – without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous…into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness.” The gospel declares that WE are the problem in the world, that the sin that I see and feel in others shares a single root with the sin that I see and feel in me. It should lead us to be quick to see our own sin and sympathize with sinners, pleading with them to repent and entrust themselves to Jesus, with humility and kindness, slow to anger and abounding in love, not to blame-shifting and name-calling and excusing of our own sin.
How are you treating other people’s moral failures? Are you indignant, disgusted, maybe impatient and frustrated? If so, we have more in common with the Pharisees who remained distant from Jesus than those who were drawn to him and welcomed by him.
How do you judge your own moral failures? Do you feel that you cannot look at yourself in the mirror? Do you beat yourself up when you fail? Do you struggle with believing that God really love you at all? If so, what are you basing that judgment upon? You are basing them on that line again, but you’ve simply fallen on the wrong side, the side of the “big” sinners. You’re basing them on your sacrifices and your performance. Remember, Jesus DIED. He died for you! It is done. Your acceptance and loveliness to God is no longer based upon your ability to change yourself and perform well.
The bigger and deeper that we perceive our sin to be, the bigger the Savior that I need to redeem me, change me, renew me. The greater we see our own sin, the greater the gracious Jesus becomes in our lives. The greater the Savior is to our hearts, the greater the love for Him. The more we recognize the depths of His grace and the sufficiency of His sacrifice for our sins and His righteousness for our life, the more we rejoice in His provision! Let us learn to shed the Pharisaical double-exclusion of our hearts so that we are deeply sympathetic to all sinners and all those impacted by sin, and deeply grateful for the mercies of God poured out upon ALL who would turn and trust in Jesus. In that way, we would be pleading to all men to be reconciled to God through Jesus.
And you who are reconciled to God, but still struggle with self-pity and fearful despair at the sight of your own failures or disappointments. He gave Himself for us, what more will He hold back? By His own kindness, with His very own presence within us. Herein lies our hope, and the world’s hope, of true rest and righteousness: Jesus, the Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and has taken them up again upon His own shoulders because He rejoices to rescue them.
Common Excuses That We Make to Avoid True Repentance: Read and Reflect
Adapted from “Gospel Identity” ©2006 World Harvest Mission
What do we hope to gain by using these types of excuses for our sin? Are we not trying protect some inner performance, some proof that we are good and acceptable and significant?
Underneath every sinful act is a sinful motivation. A “why I did that” that is rooted in the affections of the heart, in what we want and are striving to obtain. To put it another way, sinful deeds are the surface sins, but they have a root which is seeking to find water (life) through that sinful act. The pressures of life, such as suffering or stress, draw our hearts to search for water, but we are often deceived to look for it in broken cisterns that cannot hold any water instead of turning to the fountain of living water, Jesus.
This is becoming more and more apparent in the growing stresses of family life during these stay-at-home orders. Being squeezed together with other sinners into a tighter emotional space, with fewer "release valves" provided by the distance of work or school, has brought these deep inner affections to the surface with a vengeance. Rather than seek the Lord for help and humbly repenting when we strike out at others or let others down, we work to defend our turf, believing that our "being right" or "being good" or "being lovable" will provide the life worth living. Yet, when we don't perform well enough, or when others tell us that we haven't, we have nothing left upon which to presume a life worth living.
This is not new. For example, read the following passages and see the relationship between the surface sin, the root desire, and the pressure of life. After reading and examining each of these, find another example in the Scriptures and add it to the comment section.
Those “root affections” are sometimes labelled “idols of the heart”. They are those things that act as God-replacements. So, we are tempted to entrust ourselves to them because we believe they will grant us a life worth living. Therefore, we act to appease them, to impress them, to obey them, to sacrifice time and resources to them in order to obtain their promised blessings.
They promise the same things as God: comfort, peace, life, blessing, joy, significance, but in counterfeit. They are like drinking seawater. Two things happen when you drink saltwater trying to quench your thirst. First, you get thirstier. Second, you go crazy. Idols of the heart are like that. For example, a significant cultural idol of our hearts is sexual pleasure. We are tempted to entrust ourselves to it, believing that obtaining it will bring us ultimate satisfaction, ultimate joy, a real life worth living. We sacrifice much to that idol in order to obtain it, believing (wrongly, being deceived) that sexual pleasure will deliver. Or, another major idol of the heart is comfort. We believe that if we are comfortable we will have life worth living, so anything which threatens our comfort becomes something to be killed, sacrificed to the idol, or we won't obtain a life worth living. But, pursuing these things only warps our view of reality and makes us more thirsty for those things.
How does it warp our view of reality?
Well, for starters, something that was once deemed appalling to us gradually becomes more acceptable, then fully pursued. Nobody starts doing drugs because they want to destroy their family and wander the streets being used and abused by others for their next fix. It starts with a small justification, but by that deception we become the ones being owned and controlled and used.
Worse still, such pursuits only leaves us wanting; the more you drink, the thirstier you become, yet we pursue it even harder. An idol is simply a lie, a deception. It is false god. False. It can only lie. It promises life, but only brings death (1 Sam 12:20-21; Jonah 2:8). Only the living Lord can bless us and fill us with life, the water of Life which quenches our deepest thirsts so that we are not ruled by an insane pursuit of controlling our own lives and the lives of those around us.
Think about behaviors or words which you regret this week. How have you seen root affections like these drive those behaviors and words?
What were you wanting when you acted out the surface sin? What were you trying to achieve (what would have made you happy if you had received it in that moment)?
How does Jesus promise the quenching of that desire in Himself?
So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away - Look! - What is new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
From Richard Roberts:
In Christ You Are…
Acceptable (Rom 5:1)
Acquitted (Rom 3:22-26)
Adopted (Rom 8:15; Eph 1:5)
Alive forevermore (Rom 6:22)
An Ambassador (Matt 28:18-20)
Anointed by God (1 John 2:20)
Baptized into Christ's death (Rom 6:3-4)
Being Transformed (2 Cor 3:18)
Blameless (Col 1:22; Eph 1:4)
Blessed with all Spiritual Blessings (Eph 1:3)
Born again ( 1 Pet 1:3)
Bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-32)
Called according to His purpose (2 Tim 1:9)
Called into fellowship with His Son (1 Cor 1:9)
Called to liberty (Gal 5:13)
Captive (Eph 6:6; 2 Ti 2:24)
Child of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:16-21)
Chosen (Eph 1:4; 2 Thess 2:13)
Citizen of heaven (Col 1:13; Rev 17:14)
Cleansed of all unrighteousness (Eph 5:26; 1 John 1:9)
Comforted by God (2 Cor 1:3-4)
Complete in Him (Col 2:10)
Created for good works (Eph 2:10)
Crowned with Glory & Honor (Ps 8:5; 1 Pet 1:7)
Crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20; 5:24)
Delivered (Rom 7:24-8:1; 1 Thess 1:10)
Descendant of Abraham (Rom 4:16)
Disciplined by God as a son (Heb 12:4-11)
Enriched in everything by Him (1 Cor 1:5; 2 Cor 9:11)
Established in Christ (Col 2:7)
Fearfully & wonderfully made (Ps 139:14)
Forgiven (Col 2:13; 1 John 2:12)
Fragrance to God (2 Cor 2:15)
Glorified (Rom 8:17,30)
God's workmanship (Eph 2:10)
Healed (1 Pet 2:24)
Hidden in Christ (Col 3:3)
Holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:5,9)
In Christ (1 Cor 1:2; Gal 3:28)
Justified (Rom 3:24; 5:1)
Loved by God (Rom 5:5; 8:39)
Never forsaken (Heb 13:5)
New Creation (2 Cor 5:17)
Pardoned (Mic 7:18; Is 43:25)
Purified (Titus 2:14; 1 John 3:3)
Saint (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2)
Salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)
Saved (Eph 2:5-8; Rom 8:24)
Washed clean (Heb 10:22)
From Richard Roberts
Then he said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered, "The Christ of God."
“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question that Jesus asked His disciples after feeding the 5,000 and investigating what other people had been calling him. Others had been trying to fit him into their fathomable categories, even strange categories which implied some kind of miraculous reincarnation or resurrection or translation of being (Why would they think that he was Elijah or John the Baptist, both of whom were dead?).
This is still a very pertinent question, the question, if we are honest. Because if Jesus is who the New Testament presents Him to be, then nothing else matters. However, if He is not who the New Testament presents Him to be, then none of it matters. In particular, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we are still in our sins, said Paul, and are to be the most pitied of all people.
So, how one answers this questions is paramount, not only to our experience right now (which it surely is), but also to our understanding and participation in truth and reality for all of eternity.
And what is true throughout history is also true within our own hearts: we are prone to attempt, sometimes consciously, but almost always unconsciously, to force Jesus into a mold which reflects our own desires, the desires and hopes and fears of our own hearts. But, what the Scriptures show us is that He simply will not fit. He requires new wineskins (Luke 5), because the old ones will burst at the expansive majesty of His person and works.
Jesus corrects all of our hearts, no matter where you may lie on the political spectrum or philosophical or economic theories. He has things which He would praise every man for and things for which he would condemn every man. He is unique and uniquely capable to expose the dark corners of our hopes and fears for their idolatry, but it is usually these which we seek to alter in Him, to reshape and reform.
The gospel writer Luke, the doctor, makes great efforts in his telling of the gospel to reveal the absolute authority of Jesus. He has authority over Creation, evidenced by stilling the storms (Luke 8) and curing physical illnesses (Luke 4). He has authority over the spiritual realm, evidenced by casting out demons (Luke 8). He has authority over the meaning of the Scriptures, as evidenced by the manner by he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” (Matt 5; Luke 12)
Therefore, we must recognize and repudiate that inherent pull within us to try and fit Him into our value system, or into our interpretations, or into our “understanding” of the world. Rather, we have it backwards. We must fit our understanding of the world into the interpretation given by the Resurrected One, the one with authority over death itself. While our circumstances today are strange to our experience and feel two-sizes too big for our mind’s grasp, we must reject the lie that we need to fit Jesus into them, or define our understanding of Him by our experiences.
For example, many people redefine Jesus to be only human because they don’t see miracles as possible. Others redefine Jesus to be only divine because they see a weeping or hungry Jesus as too weak to help them. Others redefine Jesus to be only a Jewish prophet, or sage, or teacher of ethical good, but not as a representative to redeem us before God by His own merit. Others reject His mercy towards sinners (those sinners, anyway, not like me) and others reject His wrath towards the unjust (because I am surely not unjust).
But, within the Church, I think that the most common pitfall into which we may stumble is the subtle lie that “Jesus wouldn’t do it that way…” in regards to our suffering and pain and grief and loss in this world. It is when we lose dearly that we question the heart of Jesus or the capability of Jesus. And, in our grief, we are deceived into thinking that it is our judgment of good/bad, right/wrong, beautiful/worthless, that is paramount.
Donald Coggan, former archbishop of Canterbury, told a story (although he was unable to remember its origin):
"There was a sculptor once, so they say, who sculpted a statue of our Lord. And people came from great distances to see it – Christ in all his strength and tenderness. They would walk all round the statue, trying to grasp its splendor, looking at it now from this angle, now from that. Yet still its grandeur eluded them, until they consulted the sculptor himself. He would invariably reply, ‘There’s only one angle from which this statue can be truly seen. You must kneel.’” (quoted in John Stott’s, The Incomparable CHRIST, p251)
So must we kneel to the revelation of Jesus in ALL that God has revealed to us, His authority, His kindness, His mercy, His judgments, His humble initial arrival and His authoritative and triumphant second arrival to come in which He will judge all who reject Him and seek to harm His people. He is the resurrection and the life, the way upon which we walk true life, the door to God’s welcome, the shepherd of His sheep, the King over His people, the Lamb who atones for their sin, the hope of the nations, the King over kings and Lord over lords, the Alpha and Omega, the Word of God, the cornerstone of God’s redeemed people, the foundation upon which God builds His dwelling place, the Truth. As Peter answered his question, “You are the Messiah.”
So, let us strive to read our times through the lens of Christ, to interpret our experiences by His word rather than His word by our experiences, for He is the Christ.
Here is a little summary of the fruit of the Spirit, from Galatians 5, and their counterfeits.
Agape – love
Definition – A settled disposition of delight in a person and a resolve to serve them for their honor and their thriving life, not for what the person brings you.
Opposite – Fear, self-protection, and use of people as objects to serve oneself; narcissism
Counterfeit – Selfish affection. Helping someone but really serving self. Drawn not to the person, but to how this person’s love or affection makes you feel about yourself. Co-Dependence
Chara – joy
Definition – Delight in God and his salvation for sheer beauty and worth of who he is.
Opposite – Hopelessness, despair, boredom
Counterfeit – Elation that comes with blessings not the Blesser! Mood swings based on circumstances.
Irene – peace
Definition – Confidence and rest in the wisdom and sovereignty of God more than your own
Opposite – Anxiety and worry
Counterfeit – Indifference, apathy, not caring about something. “It doesn't matter.”
Makrothumia – patience
Definition – Ability to endure suffering without falling apart. To suffer joyfully, slow to anger
Opposite – Bitterness and irritation toward God and others.
Counterfeit – Cynicism. Self-righteousness, "I am better than this."; Carelessness, "This is beneath me."
Chrestotes – kindness
Definition – Seeking to benefit others without the need for recognition or appreciation
Opposite – Envy. Self-seeking. Unable to rejoice in other’s joy. Make things all about yourself.
Counterfeit – Manipulative good deeds. “Right hand knowing what left hand is doing.” Self-congratulation and self-righteousness. Humble-brags.
Agathosune – goodness (generosity)
Definition – Willingness to give to others for their good; self-sacrificial; useful; generosity.
Opposite – Carelessness; self-glory; greedy.
Counterfeit – Giving so that others recognize your giving. The act of giving supersedes the value of receiver of the gift.
Pistis – faithfulness
Definition – Trustworthiness. Loyalty. Integrity. To be principle-driven, committed, utterly reliable. True to one’s word.
Opposite – Opportunist. Fair-weather friend. Liar. Manipulator.
Counterfeit – Love without truth. Co-dependent. Flatterer. Being loyal when you should be willing to confront or challenge.
Prautas – gentleness (humility)
Definition – Self-forgetfulness. Counting oneself has holding a lower rank or position, but with a deep inner security.
Opposite – Superiority: self-absorbed self-aggrandizement. Looking down on others as less important.
Counterfeit – Inferiority: self-absorbed, self-consciousness, self-pitying.
Egkrateia – self-control
Definition – Ability to choose the important or right thing over the urgent or immediate thing.
Opposite – An, impulsive, uncontrolled person.
Counterfeit – Willpower through pride or slow-played manipulation; perfectionism
Listen and Learn Together
Crossway has created a new podcast for families called The Big Picture Bible Story Bible by David R. Helm.
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When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by --
Let us (said he) pour on him all we can;
Let the world’s riches which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone, of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay
For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in nature, not the God of Nature: So both should losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.
From Rich Carroll:
"Therefore, as chosen, holy and dearly beloved clothe yourselves with..." - Colossians 3:12a
Before listing the fruit of compassion, kindness, humility..., that we are to 'clothe' ourselves with here in his letter to the Colossians, Paul first reminds his fellow believers that there is an identity that they/we are to see ourselves as. Do you see it? Identity proceeds what we do in our actions. Our actions are to flow out of who we really are in this life. Who we are comes before what we do. As we see and become sure and secure in our vertical relationship and union with Christ we then can, with proper motivation, live horizontally with others. Police officers without a solid understanding of their identity as sworn servants of the law cannot behave like police officers should. Our names have a power to shape our lives.
The God of this universe calls you and I, who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ: chosen, holy and dearly loved. To know that I am personally chosen by God Himself (Ephesians 1:4-5), that I am declared holy (Romans 12:1) and that I at this moment with all my weakness and sin am dearly beloved (Romans 8:35-39) is a truth that both secures and sets me free from the lies I often can tell myself about who I am (unimportant, stupid, a loser, a mistake, failure...).
My prayer for us is that as believers we would more deeply grasp our true identity that comes with our union with Christ. Remember, you and I are not primarily what we do but who we are. Let His choice of you and His love for you wash your minds everyday and become the most important thing in your life.
From Rich Carroll:
"...a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head." - Mark 14:3b
In this passage, while Jesus was the dinner guest of Simon the Leper and reclining at the table Mary, the sister of Lazarus, came and without announcement poured a very expensive perfume (a year's wages worth on Jesus' head. There were others there who scolded her harshly for 'wasting' the perfume and not selling it to provide for the poor.
The Lord rebuked them and explained what her gift was actually about- preparing His body for burial. In fact, Jesus explained, her gift was so significant that "wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." This was the same Mary who at the end of Luke 10 was found at the feet of Jesus listening and being attentive instead of doing good service deeds with her sister Martha. She couldn't get enough of Jesus' words and presence.
This Mary, here in both accounts, has a deep love and appreciation for her Lord and simply shows it in 'doing what she could', Jesus declared. Grace had come to Mary and in her gratefulness she gave what she could. This was an extravagant gift. She didn't announce it. She wasn't trying to proudly catch the attention from others towards her good deed. She was a forgiven woman who longed to see and listen to her Master and do what naturally came out of her gratefulness for His love for her.
May our Master give us the grace to respond as well, out of our simple gratefulness, for His extravagant gift to us.
You are...a people for His own possession, so that you may proclaim His excellencies...
From Richard Roberts:
1 Peter 2:9-10
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
What is it that defines the Church? What does it mean to be the church of God? Is it to provide a place and a family to which one may belong and be accepted? Is it to be powerful and confident? Emotional and passionate? Studious? Moral? Transparent? Serving others? I imagine that there are some good descriptions of faithful saints in there (and some questionable ones!). However, Peter tells us that the fundamental nature of the Church is simply this: it is God’s own possession. What defines the Church is that it belongs to God. It is not its own to be pandered or pampered in our self-interest and stale religiosity. The Church exists for God and He lives and moves among us as a disturbing, soul-shaking, barrier-breaking, and transforming Triunity.
This is the fundamental nature of the Church. He has stamped upon her the choice word: “Mine!” In the words of Jack Miller, those of the Church are “God-possessed.” And being God-possessed they are also called a “holy nation” who have been called out of the world as a “different” people because God possesses them.
The Church, by nature of belonging to the holy God, is involved in His holiness as well. Johannes Blauw says that by the means of being God-possessed those belonging to God “have separated themselves from the others, the disobedient, and now stand in a positive relationship to God.” So, says Miller, “the God-possessed are the God-separated, consecrated to Him and distinguished from the world.” The nature of the Church is not to serve itself, or even primarily to serve the world, but rather to serve the One to whom it belongs: our reason for existence is to know and serve God. All of our desires and purpose must never lose this identity! May we not confuse our purpose with our traditions or our expectations. And certainly not with the expectations of the world. God is our owner. It is for Him that we are made and live and have our being.
But what is the reason for all of this? For sure, one could say God’s love or His kindness, but there is a far deeper purpose which Peter directly states for becoming the God-possessed. We exist to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This is our purpose as the God-possessed and God-separated and God-accepted! We have been called to directly confront the darkness of the world with the good news of the marvelous light of God in the gospel!
In other words, our changed identity and its ensuing changed affections, values, and behaviors should be the aroma of God’s mercy and reveal our holy God to a world whose deeds instead reek of “debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry.”
Our deeds, done by faith in the work of Christ and in His powerful transformation of the heart, exalt His holy work of redemption! Our obedience to Christ and our humble proclamation of His kindness towards us and for us by His grace shines into the world as a light which exposes the beauty of God. This is our purpose.
Do we really believe that the gospel can transform anybody? Is there any personal brokenness that the gospel cannot reach, where experts must instead intervene? Is there any shame which cannot be mended by the honor of being owned by God? Is there any fear which is not comforted in this? Any deep desire which does not find its satisfaction?
You see, our calling as the God-possessed is not to make life easier or better for the world, but rather to disclose to them the One True God who possesses us. Our passion to proclaim Him is based upon His worthiness, His beauty, and His glory. This is what spurs the hearts of the redeemed, not merely a love for the lost.
Am I saying that we don't love the lost? No!! However, when our "love" for the lost functionally supersedes our desire for God's praise then we tend to bow to the fear of man’s approval. We end up watering down the gospel in order to make it palatable to people, rather than revealing God in Truth. In reality, the Cross is foolishness (1 Cor 1:17-21), death (2 Cor 2:15-16), and a stumbling block (1 Pet 2:6-10) to some. But to the one who believes it is the power of salvation, life, joy, and hope.
The key to obedient proclamation of God's glory is in seeing God as big as He really is. Where a small view of God exists, praise of God doesn't. Do we really believe that God is that beautiful? That God is that big? That is that caring? That God is that kind? As Dan Flynn says, “God can and God cares.” I like that.
Remember, you who are owned by God, who are united to Jesus by faith in Him. He possesses you because He wants to. There is nothing that can take you away from Him. No suffering. No threat. No loss. Not even death.
You are His, and He can. You are His, and He cares.