Last Wednesday in our Prayer and Bible Study service, we enjoyed our study of Matthew 6:25-34 reviewing the sermon “Keep Changing How You Think” as an antidote to the sin of choosing anxious worrying about tomorrow. Remember the three points: Stop Your Stinking Thinking; Start Thinking Sweetly; You Are What You Think.
Afterward, our sister Debbie Raglin shared with me a wonderful nugget that so beautifully relates to the study in terms of not worrying about tomorrow but instead letting today be sufficient for today as Christ commands. I’d like to pass it on to you:
Cancer might rob you of the blissful belief that tomorrow stretches into forever. In exchange, you are granted the vision to see each day as precious, a gift to be used wisely and richly. No one can take that away.
— National Cancer Institute
Don’t let worry about tomorrow rob you of your today, because today is a precious gift of God to be treasured and used wisely and richly.
Last week I said to one of our elders, “Thanks for being a real man. A real elder. For doing the hard work on Session that most men fearfully serving in church office really don’t want to do and so they don’t.” It’s hard to find such men these days who are willing to hold up the arms of the minister and lift up the hearts of the saints for spiritual battle within and without the camp.
The church needs strong men. Indeed, meek like Moses and the Messiah, but with a meekness that fears God and not men and so when necessary brings strong correction even to the point of making a molten metal drink for those who make idols and call them Jehovah their Deliver or a whip to apply to those whose tables need to be overturned in the Temple.
I thought of the kind of men that we should pray God sustains as leaders in our families and Church family while reading, “John Knox — The Founder of Puritanism”, in, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, by D. M. Lloyd-Jones (a gem to treasure in our library). Please allow me to share this string of quotes about Knox by Dr. Jones and pray that your husbands, fathers, and church officers would follow in this man’s intrepid footsteps:
“No man has ever been more maligned than John Knox. This happened to Calvin also; but it is much more true of Knox … Inevitably in these days of ecumenicity a man like John Knox becomes the target of vitriolic attacks …
“… He was a strong man, a rugged man … there was something that came into his eyes now and again that literally put the fear of God into people. The most striking thing about him was his ability … his sense of discrimination … astounding energy … generally a characteristic of great preachers also … his shrewdness … Several times he saved the Reformation simply because of this shrewdness … his wisdom … He seemed to know exactly how far he could go at every stage, and he never tried to go beyond that point …
“ … a model of moderation … his originality …his courage … His great characteristic as a preacher was vehemency. Great preachers are generally vehement … it arises from the feeling of the power of the gospel. Vehemence is, of course, characterized by power …
“According to … Roman Catholics John Knox was more responsible for the abolition of the idolatry of ‘worshipping the host’ in the Communion Service than anyone else. That illustrates the power of his preaching …
“… his originality of thought, his independence …
“He was a man for his age; a man for his times. Special men are needed for special times; and God always produces such men. A mild man would have been useless in the Scotland of the 16th century, and in many other parts of this country. A strong man was needed, a stern man, a courageous man; and such a man was John Knox. Martin Luther was of the same mould … Different men are needed at different times. In those times an heroic, rugged character was needed; and God produced the man.”
Note that just as with Moses and Jesus, stern strength is not incompatible with meekness as each occasion calls for different responses from godly men per their circumstances and context. So Paul writes to the unruly Corinthians that they must choose how to be pastored by him at his arrival depending on how they respond to his imperative instructions to repent and discipline someone in the church in 1 Cor. 4:21: What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Lloyd-Jones continues with qualification to appropriately understand the varying strengths of John Knox:
“He was a most humble man. The fact that a man stands boldly for the Truth, and does not yield, does not mean that he is not humble. He is not standing for himself, he is standing for the Truth …
“ … in St Andrews … He would not preach, alleging, and these are his words, ‘that he would not run where God had not called him’ … A chaplain … turned to Knox on a certain day, and called on him to preach and not refuse the burden … the congregation called out that this was so. Here was a whole congregation calling upon Knox to preach. What was his response? ‘At this Knox burst into tears and withdrew to his room.’ He remained in a state of deep depression and anxiety until the day of his first sermon came. ‘Everyone could see how gloomy he was, for he never smiled, avoided company as much as possible, and spent all his time by himself.’ …
“What a contrast to men who are always ready to run up pulpit steps to preach! This is true humility, and also the Puritan spirit. It is ‘the fear of the Lord’, the dread of standing between God and man, and proclaiming ‘the unreachable riches of Christ.’ …
“Knox is generally regarded as being an arrogant man, and one who was rude in the presence of Mary, Queen of Scots. But that is all based on the fallacy of what makes a man a ‘ladies man’. It is based also on a misunderstanding of true womanhood, and what a true woman really likes … A true woman likes a strong man; and as you read the life of this man you find that many of his correspondents were women …
“When he was in Geneva two women took a dangerous journey over land and sea in order to be near him and to partake of his ministry. His correspondence with his mother-in-law, Mrs Bowes, and also Mrs Ann Locke, over many years is proof positive that this man had a most tender spirit when you really got to know him, and when he knew he was dealing with a true and honest and genuine soul …”
Also on my mind thinking about our need for manly ministers, elders, deacons, husbands, fathers, and brothers is what one friend and visitor to our church recently wrote to us:
“… men struggle to face the reality of their own incompetence when it comes to leadership and we often times, instead of repentance, abdicate our own role by giving our time to other things besides family. And that’s when satan steps in and the women step up and the men take a seat, so to speak. I can hardly point to an example of men over-exercising their authority … because society in general is just that weak and effeminate. Personally, my wife and I have to actively work against the world’s false idea of toxic masculinity even in our own lives because all we have ever known and have been taught was from a feministic egalitarian point of view.”
Recently, Rev. Benjamin Glazer’s article, “No Time for Weak Men”, came across my desktop and it further imports the importance of this devotion. He is lamenting the influence of “gaslighting”, which he explains is:
“… the attempt to create a false reality which forces another person to accept or do something that they under normal psychological circumstances would never do … this is the way much discourse in the church and society at-large operates. Sometimes this shows up in passive aggressive attempts to motivate decision makers to move in the direction desired by the instigator, but usually it is a reactive action of a party trying to appease the ghosts of societal influence and boogie-men who neither care about nor desire appeasement. The hope is if one gives on this debatable point, which the gaslighted think is the actual lightning rod of grievance, that the gaslighters will then leave them alone to do whatever it is they have decided is more important … Many have thought that was enough, but the mollifiers were soon forced to give up even more. The people who engage in this kind of manipulative behavior really aren’t concerned about the particulars. That is not the goal or purpose of their behavior.
“They want power, and fearful men give it to them by their weakness.
“When it comes to the body of Christ and the mission given to her, the witness to these attempts at gaslighting are undeniably in the Book of Acts and they are the main tool of Satan and his minions throughout the book of Revelation. Whether it was Jewish or Roman authorities there are multiple attempts, either through bribery and threats or the enticements of men’s words, to move the disciples away from the hard edges of gospel truth into soft, weak accommodationists. This is of course the method of theological liberalism. Take away the mean words of Paul and Moses and leave the red words of Christ, yet the culture is not satisfied. We’ll take Jesus, but not too much. Just get rid of that supernatural stuff, or the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, open-marriage, sexual intercourse at any time of life, etc… There is always an attempt by this line of thought to try and make Jesus safe for the world. If we only give in on this issue they will listen about Christianity. However, this is not possible.
“The Lion of Judah is voracious and powerful. There is no bargaining with Jehovah.
“Christ the Destroyer (1 Cor. 10:9-10) demands whole obedience unto Himself. There is no friendship with the world, nor can there be. The leaders of His church fool themselves if they believe one can have influence with those whose philosophies are founded in order to deny the sovereign and almighty power of God by playing games and cooperating with the world. Light and darkness have nothing in common.
“The Church must stand convinced of the rightness of its work and the indefatigable nature of its call.
“In John 10 our Lord describes hirelings who run at the first sign of danger. As long as the pay is good and the trouble light, they are content and happy. When the wolf appears they skedaddle … The wolf wins and the sheep are dead, but the shepherd is safe to ply his trade in the midst of another flock. He writes to his friends about his near escape and wonders at the weakness of his ewes. All are complimentary of his temerity. But the sheep are still dead, the wolves received their pound of flesh, and are encouraged to continue wandering to and fro seeking the next gathering to devour. [See Ezekiel 34:1-4, which he quotes].
“This is not a time for jobholders seeking peace and quietude, to be gaslighted into ever surrender.
“Ministers of the gospel in this age need to be ready and willing to lose their place in polite society to boldly proclaim the whole counsel of God and defend the witness of the church towards the good news of salvation in Christ Alone, and the biblical holiness without which no man will see the Lord. When the people of God cannot even stand up … and bring a defense for the sanctification of sinners one wonders as to why that reason is? The enemies of Christ are never going to be at comity with the purveyors of truth. They hate truth, and want to see it destroyed.
“One cannot serve both God and mammon, the State, the popular culture, and the King of Kings …”
Thank God for your manly elders. And pray for them, against the permeating leaven of the spirit of this age, to heed 1 Cor. 16:13: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. [I remind you that the bolded words are actually one word in Greek that means, “act like a man”.] For today, more and more, even the basic line between masculinity and femininity is being essentially and literally severed.
May you be thankful to have such strong men leading this subsection of the household of God. And pray that the Lord sends us more of their kind that we would stand as the pillar and ground of the truth. For such a time as this.
As the Scriptures often point us to observe the behavior of animals in creation to apply a spiritual lesson, let me share with you two observations and an overlapping meditation of my own recently.
First, last week at the manse, while I was trimming our grass I was amazed by a bold lizard who kept charging me and wouldn’t be deterred until I lifted my buzzing yard tool and yielded to let him pass. I marveled with Isaac and Gabriel over his fearless tenacity; together we wondered what moved him ever forward straight at my feet and nearer to the danger of being sliced to pieces? Once I stepped aside he immediately went to the sidewalk near the house and gobbled down some unassuming insect. Then he’d scurry across the lawn only shortly to return with the same rugged determination and no fear of we giants standing in his way for another bug.
Yesterday at church I saw the three baby birds who had been nesting in our breezeway now flying as juveniles. They relentlessly attacked a huge locust, taking turns dive bombing him repeatedly across the lawn, swarming and pecking at him. Though it took many waves of attack they never gave up as they chased after the battered pest beyond and around the end of the sanctuary and out of sight. I’m certain the large, brown prey didn’t see the sun set.
So may we hunger after God, His Word, and holy things with an insatiable appetite. And so may we not let anything keep us from tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.
Matthew 5:6: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Last week in our evening sermon with Philippians 2:12-13, we saw that, We Will Work Out God’s Will by His Working in Us
Something that Rachel brought up regarding the Greek word for work, “energize”, in verse 13 about the fact that God is working in us as the motivation to put our hands to work for Him and one another was what she just learned in her chemistry class at Southwestern College:
Energy is defined as the capacity to perform work, or produce heat.
Work is a force acting on an object over a distance, which causes a change in motion.
So because God has and is energizing us within we are called with encouragement to work out or own salvation (sanctification until glorification).
Something I hadn’t drawn out of the text but did with follow up research was that Paul was speaking to their “own” salvation because Paul was no longer there in the presence of the Philippian church to help them with their own responsibility to have the outworking of God’s inner working. William Hendriksen explains vs. 12: “ … his very absence must impress upon them the fact that now more than ever they must take the initiative. Now especially they must exert themselves, for now they are on their own … They must now work out ‘their own salvation,’ that is, they must work it out apart from the assistance of Paul.” And their encouragement again is that God is still present and working within them to be able to do so.
Charles Erdman writes, “The very fact that God is working is given as the ground of the exhortation for them to work … The sense of human responsibility leads to despair unless balanced by confidence in the grace and power of God … True confidence in God results in humble, active obedience.”
Henry E. Anderson comments, “Salvation produces the divine ‘urge’ within us. We do not work for salvation, but because of it.” Remember that the Greek word in verse 13 for the “working” that God is doing in us as “energy” could be translated “urge”.
Thus, Paul exhorts us in Eph. 3:16 … to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man …
William Hendriksen also writes, “God is the great and constant, the effective Worker, the Energizer, operating in the lives of the Philippians, bringing about in them both to will and to work.” He cites the Canons of Dort III and IV, articles 11 and 12: “He infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions … Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active.”
May we be encouraged that the Lord indeed shines His light through us that we would shine as lights in this dark world (tonight’s text, vss. 14-16), as electricity engages a string of lightbulbs strung across a black night sky.
I am planning and preparing to return to Philippians for our evening sermons this Lord’s Day. We left off with Christ’s incredible self-humiliation. But we will see next that His reward is His super-exaltation!
Philippians 2:9, 11 read in part, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name … that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
There is much to be said about this verse and its implication for Christians to be encouraged that if they humble themselves in Christ on earth God will exalt them in Christ in the new heavens and earth. One illustration by James Montgomery Boice in his commentary on Philippians I think would be a little challenging to digest in a sermon, but it is very impressive to help us get at what Paul is saying especially in verse 11 of chapter two. I’d like to share it here with you as our e-devotion for this week:
“During the nineteenth century, when Italy was divided into a number of independent states, there was a popular movement for the reunification of Italy under Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia. Before he became king there was a surge of enthusiasm to drive out the Austrians, keep the French at the borders, and to place this man on the throne. A slogan embodied the hopes of the Italian people during this period composed of the first letters of the Italian phrase meaning, ‘Victor Emmanuel King of Italy.’ In Italian the phrase is ‘Victor Emmanuel Re di Italia,’ and by taking the first letters form each of the Italian words, the patriots produced the slogan verdi [bold GVL]. At this time the the great opera composer Giuseppi Verdi was at the apex of his fame. Hence, his name became a symbol of the reunification of Italy and was written everywhere. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel became king of the united states of Italy, and at the time verdi was still displayed across the country. Now, however, the slogan took on an entirely different meaning. It was no longer a cry of expectation; it was a triumphant acknowledgment of what had already happened.
“In exactly the same way the confession ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ on our lips is expectation, at best an acknowledgment of what is only partially true or true in potential. But the day that these verses speak of is coming, when the confession will stand as a glorious acknowledgment of what has already taken place. Jesus is Lord, but then there will be no more rivals to the throne.”
How amazing to consider also that verse 10 is directly quoting Isaiah 45:23 and applying it, as Paul does in Romans 14:11, to Jesus Christ: because in that context it is referring to the LORD, Jehovah, Yahweh as the only true God Who alone is sovereign and judges and worthy of worship! This is true now. But one day, at the Last Great Day, everyone will acknowledge this openly. Or, said another way, no one will be allowed to deny Christ any longer, not even the fallen angels, men, nor Satan himself who all the while has sought to usurp Christ’s throne (Isaiah 14:13-15).
“Elijah had the kind of spiritual boldness that is only given to those who linger in the presence of the living God.”
These are the powerful words from a sermon by Dr. Philip Ryken in his Every Last Word radio program, Elijah Vol. 1: “A Man Just Like Us” (available at ReformedResources.org). The message is based on James 5:17: Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. I’d like to share some other challenges Dr. Ryken offers us from his sermon.
“Are you a man, or a woman, or a child just like Elijah? Or are you timid in your witness for Christ? A winsome testimony is the proof of a lively prayer life. But a shallow prayer life will be exposed by a shallow ministry … If we are not just like Elijah, it must be because we are not men and women just like Elijah in prayer.”
“We live in an evil day, so our prayers are as necessary as Elijah’s prayers. And we serve a living God so our prayers can be as efficacious as Elijah’s prayers. And so may the Lord make us people of prayer so that we may pray the way that Elijah prayed, as it says in James, righteously. So that our prayers are undiluted by our disobedience, unhindered by unconfessed sin — Powerfully, so that our prayers prevail against the tide of idolatry in our day. Effectively, so that our prayers discern the very things that God intends to do in our day. Earnestly, so that our knees grow strong through our persistence in prayer.”
Amen! Earlier, Dr. Ryken said: “Elijah is a praying, obeying, staying man because God is a living, Word-keeping, caring God.” May we lack no motivation and movement to pray for change in our lives and the lives of others. And let us obey the Lord and stay at His work with our hand to the plow.
But if we aren’t good at staying, then we may not be very good at obeying, and if we aren’t good at obeying, then we aren’t very likely spending much time praying. Not like Elijah. And that spiritual dearth will be exposed by a shallow, proud testimony in how we handle ourselves and others. Beloved, may we thus “linger in the presence of the living God.”
I heard two things on the Christian radio this week while driving that blessed me greatly thinking about our union in Christ and identity living in Him now as new creatures free from being haunted by our pasts, which I’d like to share with you.
First, in between songs, the announcer said something like this: “Are you having a difficult day? Worship through it.”
Amen! Days are often difficult until the Eternal Day. Even good days have their challenges to endure until evening. How can and do we get through? Worship Jesus. Keep your Psalter handy. Remember you have Psalm 117 memorized and at the fingertips and strings of your heart. And keep the version of Psalm 19:7-11 we will sing this Lord’s Day in the back of your mind. And sing them to the Lord to get through whatever is ailing you. It’s amazing how quickly singing the Lord’s Psalms to Him will get you to persevere to the other side of your predicament. And so Satan will hope you won’t do it: so you don’t get through it, or at least not well. Instead, worship through beloved!
The other blessing was a song I heard, especially these words: “Grace rewrote my story.” Wow. What a blessing. Our story was bleak and black and dead and dying and would end in everlasting tragedy. It is not a story we want to be our testimony. Let us be glad to bury it in our resurrection through Christ in us Who rewrites our story. A whole new, clean and sanctified slate is opened up to us from beginning to end and in all of the middle chapters as we rejoice to know our names are written in the Book of Life. How glorious to have our story re-written by Christ’s sovereign hand that holds out His scepter of mercy over us. Whatever our past that tries to creep in and control our present, we can remember that’s not our story anymore! We have a completely edited character profile and re-written future. He has whited out all our sins. And given us a sanctified story written in His blood. Hallelujah!
Here are the words of the song in a bit more of their context:
This is my testimony From death to life. ‘Cause grace rewrote my story I’ll testify
Here’s the song if you’d like to enjoy it for your Christian entertainment and edification:
Naturally, we don’t use songs other than the Psalms for worship. But this is one I enjoy while driving for meditation! I especially love one of the song’s refrains: “The miracle that I just can’t get over, my name is registered in heaven.” Indeed this is our new story through Jesus in HIS-STORY.
While searching for the song I also found this one by the same title but it is a different song. I encourage you to enjoy it as well. You’ll hear an older Christian song within it, “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long!” Our story is new because our story is now Christ’s. How sweet it is.
Speaking of sweet, we’re going to have topical sermons tomorrow as it was a very busy week for Session and myself as you know. It will help to have more time for researching our exegetical series on Deuteronomy and Philippians and return to them next week. And there’s something I’ve wanted to preach on per an article I recently read and this gives me opportunity to do so. As well, Mr. Delgado reminded me of his request the next time I could use a topical sermon breather. He asked for Proverbs 24:13-14 speaking about eating honey and the sweet experience of its reviving blessing as an illustration of what eating the Word of God does for us every time we taste and see that He is good through His Word.
Among other Psalms, Psalm 19:7-10 came to mind for worship tomorrow because of verse 10 speaking of God’s Law, testimony, and Word: “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Knowing many of you are very familiar with a folk tune (for lack of a better style description) to sing this Psalm section with verse 10 as the refrain, I’d like to do that tomorrow so please plan on it. As I don’t know it as well as all of you, I searched for it online to get more familiar and practice. I offer this one as probably the smoothest way to say the words (especially “testimony”):
I also found this cute children’s/puppet version we’ll have fun using to teach our little guys with at home (sharing just for fun):
Then I found this gorgeous rendition I hope you’ll be blessed listening to (I plan to look for this to add to my iTunes music library):
Now of course we also won’t use instruments in worship but this is lovely for our learning and listening pleasure. Also, I like the way he uses verses 11 and 14 so please give a listen and I’ll plan on leading us with those extra parts at the end of our singing Psalm 19 tomorrow (we’ll practice in our family worship after dinner this evening).
Beloved, let us prepare our hearts for the sweet worship and fellowship in Christ that awaits us tomorrow on His Holy Day, the Christian Sabbath, during which we celebrate the Resurrection each of the 52 Lord’s Days of the year as we await our own resurrection at His return and the climax of His story and our eternal living of it and Him together. We can trust that if we come preparing ourselves to taste of the Lord in His Word that He will give us a hearty holy appetite and satisfy us with Christ’s righteousness.
First, I rejoice to report from the Renner’s that our sister and mother in the faith, after a long absence in the body (while present in the spirit and through our webcasts), Eleanor Fraire, will be back to worship with us in the body this Lord’s Day morning! Please pray for her strength. As noted last week in anticipation of this family reunion, we will have the Lord’s Supper after the morning service.
As you know, I began working in “tent maker ministry” this week for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals as Community Engagement Coordinator. I look forward to sharing more about the details with you as things develop in my training.
One wonderful thing to let you know about is that the Alliance is sending me a copy of all their books for a reference in my work. And they are happy to have them housed in our church library so you all can have access to them.
Also, I began listening to a series of sermons this week that were made available by the Alliance for free in one of their recent emails to anyone who has interest, and I’d like to encourage you to give them a listen. It is a series entitled, “The Christian’s Struggle Against Sin” by the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice from his Bible Study Hour radio program (I also just got his book on Philippians this week to add to my reading for the evening sermons and am already enjoying it).
In his first message of the above named series, while speaking on the First Commandment, Dr. Boice shares two things from John Stott’s Basic Christianity that really stuck out to me as profound and challenging:
“Sin is fundamentally the exaltation of self at the expense of God.”
“What someone wrote of the Englishman is true of every man, he is a self-made man who worships his creator.”
Both of these quotes I think need no further comment other than to say they are well worth meditating upon as we look at ourselves (thoughts, words, and deeds) in the mirror of God’s Word. Still, it might be worth noting that “creator” in the second quote is not capitalized.
As we muse on the definitions of sin above by Dr. Stott, let us remember what the Word of God says sin is, and how it is described by our Larger Catechism:
1 John 3:4: Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
1 John 5:17: All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 24.
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.
Let us repent of our selfish exaltation of our own unrighteous breaking of God’s holy law and humble ourselves before Him to exalt Him in real worship tomorrow — and trust that in this He will lift us up in Christ.
Recently I was watching a fishing program on YouTube with the boys. This particular angler is especially enjoyable as he is a Christian who prays over his meals (which is often his fresh and filleted catch with a small portable cooker while on the shoreline).
Something he shared was profound to me. He began to fish for crabs in a shallow ocean runoff using his fishing pole with a fish carcass on the end of his line. He said he didn’t need to use a hook, because the crabs just held on to the dead fish as he brought in the line, and so they did indeed! While reeling them in he said, “These crabs are so greedy they just hold on and won’t let go so you don’t even need a hook to drag them out.”
Beloved, isn’t this what we have to be so careful about? Satan doesn’t even need to use a hook so often to lure us in to his grasp. We are so greedy we just hold on to the temptation and he simply reels us in as we blindly yet gladly grab on.
May we be so careful:
1 John 2:16: For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
Jude 11: Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.
Proverbs 21:25-26: The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long …
Another way crabs are caught is by putting out a trap with bait in it. The crabs crawl in unassumingly, but they can’t get out. Then they are pulled out by the trapper. If you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, what also comes to mind is the proverbial monkey who can’t get his hand out of a jar because he won’t let go of the the item within it.
Let us also remember that when we find ourselves grumbling, murmuring greed is often behind it one way or another (something the NT Scriptures warn against constantly pointing to the Church in Numbers in particular). And the stubborn clenching of our fists will keep us away from God and draw us closer to the Devil.
Mr. Delgado showed me a video today that was really amazing. Expert archer Lars Andersen is seen shooting 1,120 arrows in 1.4 minutes: 100 arrows in 18 seconds; 1,000 arrows in 25 seconds! What’s most impressive to me is how he can load so many arrows on the string all at once so fast before shooting. What skill. What speed to keep sending myriad piercings into the target!
See the video here:
This reminded us of the following Scripture:Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Ephesians 6:16). I recall during my studies for the sermon on this text (requested by Mr. Sanchez) how several Puritans warned that just when we endure one arrow’s impact we must be careful to not let our guard down but keep our shield of faith held high and constant, for another arrow has already been launched and is in its flight toward our head or heart.
Faith is the Christian’s most important defense against the attacks of the Devil.
The Devil is constantly seeking to destroy your life.
To stand against the Devil’s attacks you must constantly believe God to deliver you.
Fight the Devil with Faith.
Keep up the good fight, beloved. And keep alert for other attacks by your adversary with constant faith in your Advocate. Never think the war is over until you are in heaven. But trust you can be more than conquerors in your spiritual battles. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4).
A few weeks ago I was reminded of the logical fallacy of false causes, otherwise referred to in Latin as non causa pro causa. It is the illogical connecting of some thing or event as the cause of another thing or event simply because the one preceded the other in time. One example or “sub category” is referred to as Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: “after this therefore because of this”.
I think we make these false reasonings all the time. I know I do. And it’s risky business, frankly.
Here are some amusing things that happened all in one night that illustrate what I’m talking about and why I’m talking about it.
When I tried to start one of our vans to back out of the garage for a birthday piñata party, it was nearly dead. I assumed it was the battery. But I tried to clean the connections before I bought a new one to check because I learned a little while ago with the other van while being rescued by a tow truck worker that sometimes if the connections are dirty the battery won’t start even though it is fine (a bad conduction of electricity). The battery did NOT need to be replaced. In this case, there was an extra component to the red (positive) cable connection, and this included a metal shimmy to keep the connection tight (see the adjacent photo). Well that shimmy had with age been beaten down and loose so the cable actually would come off even though the screw and clamp were tightened all the way. And that was the problem—I bent the clamp with a wrench to tighten the connection and test it, and the van started right up! So thankfully, a quick trip to the auto parts store with a new shimmy offered a quick fix for only a few dollars! I was delighted it wasn’t a new battery (not only because of the cost savings, but time savings as it was nearing the Sabbath eve).
That same night, we kept hearing a beep in the hallway between the bedrooms. We had taken down a bad smoke detector a week or so before and the others had been put in at the same time. So one by one I took them all down and into the garage sure that they were all gone bad. But the beep in the hallway continued! We started to get a little spooked! Partly because there was also a strange plastic burning smell in the garage. Surely then the detectors were responding to that smell and maybe something was unsafe? Yet they didn’t beep in the garage when I brought them there, and the beep continued in the hallway by the bedrooms! But no smoke detectors on the ceilings to account for. Arrrghhhh!
Then, we finally found the culprit of the incessant beeping! It was an old smoke detector that had been placed in a hallway closet. So I took that out, took the old battery out, and ahhhhhh, no more beeping!
So what accounted for the bad smell in the garage? It turned out there was no connection to the smoke detectors (which weren’t actually beeping after all). It turns out, while working on the van’s battery a nerf gun bullet somehow flew into the engine area and I couldn’t get it out. I had gone back and forth to the auto store afterward and I think the plastic melted and caused an odor until completely annihilated by the heat. But it had nothing to do with the beeping. Nor did the smoke detectors we took down. And the battery was actually fine!
The point is, there are so many different variables happening before something else does, but our lack of omniscience can mistakenly identify something as the reason something else happened. And frankly, that error can have its own disastrous effects. It was important to do some sleuthing and and deduce away the various possibilities rather than presume a certainty.
In this case, it was just humorous in the end. But it did remind me of the warning of the logical fallacy of false causes. We have to be careful not to make assumptions that can wrongly lead to unnecessary blame and paranoia because we couldn’t be bothered to check ourselves and our own limited ability to observe and analyze. One thing does not necessary follow from another thing simply because of its proximity in space and time even very immediately before.
It reminds me to have the wisdom of the Proverbs. Such as …
Proverbs 18:17: He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.
Proverbs 14:29: He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.
Proverbs 21:5: The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that ishasty only to want.
Proverbs 25:8:Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.
Thus, … my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: (James 1:19).
Now don’t be too impressed with my use of Latin. It does not logically follow that because I have been using it here that therefore I was trained in it (not at all: I looked this stuff up on line to remember and share with you).
More importantly, may we be careful of jumping to conclusions that will prove us to be illogical, rash, and unwise. God helping us.
Beloved, remember last week when we studied that God is love and we should thus be like Him and love Him back. We saw in Luke 7:47 that this love for God is seen in thankfulness for His forgiveness and shown in how we return to Jesus and express an attitude of gratitude.
Yesterday when I picked up our “new” Honda Odyssey from the dealership service department, I was so impressed with what the staff person told me. He said the previous owner of our van was one of the most amazing clients he has: he even keeps his number in his cell phone. I knew by the CarFax history that the van had been brought regularly here to be serviced by the prior owner.
The staff person shared an example of this man’s character. Years ago, the previous owner of our van was standing in line waiting for service and overheard a woman talking with this service man about her car. It needed a timing belt replacement and he explained to her that it was necessary for her and others on the road to be safe. If she didn’t want the work done she should have it towed and get a taxi. She was very upset. She couldn’t pay for it but she wanted to be able to drive it away. This man, the previous owner of the van, quietly and privately inquired of the price and paid for the service. The staff person nearly shed tears telling me the story, and said he nearly did when this happened. He was clearly very very impressed with this man and what he did for this woman.
But the other thing that was very impressive to me was how disgusted he was with the lady. Because when he told her the service would be taken care of by an anonymous client who overheard the situation, she said nonchalantly, “Oh, OK, great.” He expressed how flabbergasted he was that she showed no serious gratitude and didn’t fully appreciate this amazing act of generous kindness. She didn’t ask to try and find the man, nor pass on a passionate thank you. She showed no significant gratitude. She just stopped complaining.
The first example of this man doing such a nice thing ($1,500!) was an incredible witness to this staff person (and based on a few things I saw left in the van I seriously suspect he is Christian). But the second example of the woman not appreciating such a generous thing ($1,500!) was a horrible witness to him.
Remember that in Luke 17:11-19 Jesus healed ten lepers but only one came back to thank Him and He approved this expression of thanks; but our Lord also took a disapproving note of the nine He also healed but who couldn’t be bothered to say thank you to Him.
Let us remember what 1 Thessalonians 5:18 teaches: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Today we will be studying fear again and learn it is bondage and to be cast off in the spirit of God’s loving adoption.
Romans 8:15: For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
I’d like to share an acronym Fernanda and I learned about this week from an educational video which I’ll share more about during this morning’s sermon:
Is this not the truth? How often do we enslave ourselves to the lies of Satan and our situations when we should instead cast off all bondage of fear in the sober power of love and faith in Christ. Beloved saints who are more than conquerors, let us do so this morning. For the spirit of fear is not of God our Father and it is simply unreasonable. With faith, fear is futile!
As we return to the Gospel of Matthew we take it up at the grave of Jesus. And we find He is risen from the dead as the firstfruits of our resurrection. Thus we celebrate today, as every Lord’s Day, the resurrection of Christ. Each Lord’s day is Easter Sunday!
I’d like to share two things with you as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection.
First, see these pictures of some of our flowers at the manse. They are called “The Crown of Thorns”. Notice how huge are the thorns and remember Christ wore such a crown on the cross. Appreciate His agony of soul and body to pay for your sins.
But then see the stone rolled away and Christ having left the tomb as the sign that you have been forgiven your debt before God and are free to go! out of hell and into heaven!
So I also want to share with you the “Easter Song” as I have so often enjoyed by these two artists:
You are set free indeed by the Son! Go quickly and tell His disciples! And fall at His feet and worship Him along the way.
Recently we took comfort together in a sermon on Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. We learned here that the way to have peace of heart and mind in this raging world is to know that God is on His throne.
We also saw that the Hebrew word for “to be still” means to slacken one’s tight grip. We considered the common phrase, “Cut me some slack”, which comes from docking ships and means “loosen the rope”. If the rope is too tight, there is no room to relieve or readjust. And leaving slack allows the boat to float with changing tides without having its balance upset.
I have since meditated on this meaning of “be still” through a few of life’s little applications that I thought would help further illustrate the idea of relaxing in God by loosening our slack.
First, to my great frustration I normally go through a mound of dental floss on the bathroom counter at each flossing as the string repeatedly snaps every few teeth. Experimenting with a “looser” hold did the trick. Cutting some slack now keeps the floss from being continuously cut amidst my tight bite. Much more pleasant, including for my wife who no longer has to endure a series of “ugghhh!” before we go to sleep.
Second, as you know, we needed to have the church’s sound system fixed again. After moving things around to work the problem last time, we decided to add a movable shelf on rails to the pulpit to more easily access some components. This opened up a shelf to get the main amplifier off the floor; but as we reattached its cables to its back, one of them was not quite long enough and so a tight stretch to reconnect—and as we feared, we learned its inner wire severed while we plugged it back in. So we had to have the sound guy come out to repair it for us. While he did, I asked him to splice in more slack (extra cord) in case we ever needed to move it around again; that way, we’d be able to keep it loose and readjust without breaking it next time. He did so. And its relaxing to know we have room to adapt again if needed. And the outdoor speakers are now working once more so we can ring the “bell” into the community and enjoy hearing Psalms sung as we gather for open air worship.
Third, while I and the boys were watering the backyard gardens, I needed more hose to get around the corner of the house and water the far lot. There was enough hose unwound already, but it gets stuck and the excess on the other side needed to be brought over so that I could pull the slack and smoothly advance. Without doing that, it’s impossible to proceed. Once waiting for some extra slack instead of tugging and straining the work became easy.
These examples are rather elementary but they show us how to “be still” before God: loosening our hold and sinking into God’s hands with more room to breathe and move.
Remember, peace is not the absence of problems but the resolved awareness of the mighty and reassuring presence of Christ. And submitting to it by giving up some slack.
So I ask you again as I did at the end of that sermon: Are you not feeling quite right? Are you uptight? Tense? Beloved, Be Still (loosen some slack so you relax) Knowing God.
Do you often struggle with being down in the mouth over disappointments (our unmet expectations and surprises)? Me too. Here’s something to encourage us. In his commentary on the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, William Hendriksen writes:
“The future life will not mean the absence of hope, but it will mean the absence of disappointment. There will be no disappointments in heaven. Here on earth the twin-sister of hope is disappointment. There the twin-sister of hope is fulfillment.”
I have often thought and taught that in heaven we won’t need faith and hope because we will no longer be longing for what we don’t yet have or see (Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind). But indeed Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that along with love both faith and hope will in some sense abide. Hendriksen helps us consider that they will abide in the sense that our faith and hope in God will have no aspect of waiting to be fulfilled in any way in the future—they will always be satisfied in the now of every moment of an eternal day!
That thought is worth meditating upon often, don’t you think? Let it keep our thoughts and affections upon heaven where our lives are hid with Christ sitting on His throne at God’s right hand until He returns for us (Colossians 3:1-4). This idea also would be much of the lesson of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew chapters 24-25 which I plan to finally tackle with you this Lord’s Day (thank you for your prayers!). How blessed to know we will be fully and forever satisfied in faith and hope as we love Jesus face-to-face one day!
I see an interesting connection of wisdom with something I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, along with a small section of the Westminster Larger Catechism’s (WLC) teaching on duties required in the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill” (Exodus 20:13). Here’s what the WLC 135 includes as required positively from the negative command:
“ … a sober use of meat, drink, physick, sleep, labour, and recreations …”
Why is such required in the commandment to not take the life of someone else? Because there is wisdom in recognizing how strain on our physical state of being can cause us to be in danger of impulsive reactions that could, in extreme moments, endanger the life of another. We all understand we are more irritable when we have gone too long without eating (or eating properly) or getting proper rest. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the good of others is to take a nap (my children have learned this about me!). Notice also how important it is to recreate (encouraging me as we prepare to take a long-needed mountain-lake cabin vacation).
Here’s the connection with Mr. Gladwell’s book. The environmental factors we find ourselves in (and which we often should look to moderate) can have a significant impact on how we or others behave ourselves (well or badly). In his sections on “The Power of Context”, having cited historical and psychological case studies, Mr. Gladwell shares:
“Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions of the times and places in which they occur … The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment … there are instances where you can take normal people from good schools and happy families and good neighborhoods and powerfully affect their behavior merely by changing the immediate details of their situation.”
We are not here teaching bare behaviorism. But the truth is, we are human and weak and limited. He continues,
“Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment … small changes in context can be just as important in tipping epidemics … a number of relatively minor changes in our external environment can have a dramatic effect on how we behave and who we are.”
What’s the point I want to share with you this evening? The same as the WLC section noted above. We are responsible to do the best we can to control our environments in our home, church, and state for the best possible outcomes. Instead of complaining about ourselves and others, how about we proactively seek ways to support one another to improve their situations where we recognize their weaknesses? Set yourself and others up for success by how you try and provide a helpful environment that avoids surprises and stress with things like appropriate and adequate diet, medical support, sleep, work, and play.
So much of how we can do good and handle challenges is by seeking to maximize opportunities and minimize difficulties for ourselves and others. We don’t need to test ourselves in the extreme — in fact, we should avoid it. And this can help us understand ourselves and others and be forgiving and patient when we consider life phases of dramatic circumstances. And it can help us try and set up the best situations to help one another shine our brightest. Especially for those who are in higher responsibility, thinking ahead for how to create environments that tend toward tipping to pinnacle points rather than being tipped over beyond our natural limits is a wise consideration.
In two sermons last year I quoted from a renowned graduation speech by Navy SEAL Admiral William H. McRraven entitled, “How to Change the World”. I originally learned about this message last year while listening to a message by a boy in speech and debate club in which my girls participate. I’d like to share excerpts of it with you along with some Scriptures that come to mind.
1. Make Your Bed Every Morning. “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right … If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
Psalm 92:1-2 says, It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning … And Psalm 63:1 reads, O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee …
2.Find Someone to Help You Paddle. “During SEAL training, the students are all broken down into boat crews. Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surf zone and paddle several miles down the coast. In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be eight-to-ten-feet high. And it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in … Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously dumped back on the beach. For the boat to make it to its destination everyone must paddle. You can’t change the world alone. You will need some help … If you want to change the world find someone to help you paddle.”
Ecclesiastes 4:11-12 reminds us of the importance of the communion of the saints: … if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
3.Measure a Person by the Size of Their Heart.“The best boat crew we had was made up of the little guys, the ‘Munchkin Crew’ we called them. No one was over five foot five … They out-paddled, out-ran, and out-swam all the other boat crews … The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the Munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim … but somehow these little guys … always had the last laugh swimming faster and reaching the shore long before the rest of us … Seal training was a great equalizer: nothing mattered but your will to succeed … If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart not by the size of their flippers.
Goliath mocked and threatened young David. And then David cut the giant’s head off and delivered the Israelites from the Philistines in the strength of the Lord. (1 Samuel 17) And David was said to be a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22).
4. Keep Moving Forward [through failure]. “Several times a week the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough … but it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into [it] … it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find something wrong … there were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their efforts were in vain, that no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right they went unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform. The instructors weren’t going to allow it. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform … you still [fail] … it’s just the way life is sometimes. If you want to change the world get over being a [perfectionist] and keep moving forward.
Proverbs 24:16 reassures us that … a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again …
5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Circuses. “Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events … something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards … if you failed to meet … those standards your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a circus … two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit … But an interesting thing happened to those that were constantly on the list. Over time those students … got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength and physical resiliency. Life is full with circuses. You will fail … likely … often … It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world don’t be afraid of the circuses.”
James 1:2-4 instructs us, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
6. Sometimes You Have to Slide Down the Obstacles Head-first. “At least twice a week the trainees were required to run the obstacle course … twenty-five obstacles … The most challenging obstacle was the ‘Slide for Life’. It had a three-level, thirty-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a two-hundred foot-long rope. You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope, and pulled yourself hand-over-hand until you got to the other end. The record for the obstacle course had stood for years … seemed unbeatable … until one day a student decided to go down the Slide for Life headfirst … It was a dangerous move, seemingly foolish and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the course … instead of several minutes [on the Slide for Life] it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head-first.”
The Levites had to step into the Jordon River before God parted the waters for all to walk across and into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:13ff). Impetuous Peter experienced walking on water with Jesus (Matthew 4:28ff); and he jumped off the boat to swim back and greet the Savior after the resurrection (John 21:7).
7. Don’t Back Down from the Sharks. “During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego … the waters … are a breeding ground for the Great White Sharks. To pass … there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim. Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the students on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters … But you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position, stand your ground do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if a shark hungry for a midnight snack darts towards you then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away. There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them. So if you want to change the world don’t back down from the sharks.”
Remember how we’ve seen in Matthew Jesus regularly dealt strongly and directly with the constant circling of the Scribes, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and lawyers around Him seeking to destroy Him. And consider Jesus’ example in chapter four of both Matthew and Luke with James 4:7 in view: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8. Be Your Very Best in the Darkest Moments. “As Navy Seals one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practice this technique extensively … The ship attack mission is where a pair of Seal divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles under water using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to the target … As you approach the ship which is tied to a pier the light begins to fade … To be successful in your mission you have to swim under the ship and find the keel, the center line and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening, and where it gets to be easily disorient[ing] and you can fail. Every Seal knows that under the keel at the darkest moment of the mission is the time when you need to be calm, when you must be calm, when you must be composed. When all your tactical skills, your physical power, and your inner strength must be brought to bear. If you want to change the world you must be your very best in the darkest moments.”
Psalm 23:4 can be our regular refrain for relief: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
9. Start Singing When You’re Up to Your Neck in Mud. “The ninth week of training is referred to as ‘Hell Week’. It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment. And one special day at the ‘Mud Flats’ … between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the ‘Tijuana Slews’, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you. It is on Wednesday of ‘Hell Week’ that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold, the howling wind, and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors … As the sun began to set … my training class having committed some egregious infraction of the rules was ordered into the mud. The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit … some students were about to give up … eight hours till the sun came up … And then one voice began to echo through the night … raised in song … with great enthusiasm … one voice became two … three … before long everyone was singing … the singing persisted and some how the mud seemed a little warmer and the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away. If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world it is the power of hope … One person can change the world by giving people hope. So if you want to change the world start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.”
Paul and Silas sang Psalms for strength while in prison at midnight and God delivered them (Acts 16:25ff). Further, Romans 5:3-5 reminds us,… we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
10. Never Ring the Bell. “Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at five o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to be in the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. All you have to do is ring the bell to get out. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”
Beloved, Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)
One thingAdmiral McRaven said during his speech’s introduction about his SEAL training in Coronado struck me: “It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy Seal.” Does this not bring up the images of Revelation 12, and the warning to heed from Peter?: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Yet the Admiral added, “But the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure, and hardships.” Beloved, in Christ’s strength let us indeed hold fast and overcome in all things that we can have Paul’s words to be our own in the end: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
This week, our family came about some fun videos on YouTube that are intending to help us all feel connected and keep our spirits up while isolated from one another and our various communities. One of the videos featured a cute young boy closing out the episode’s credits singing a familiar refrain by reggae crooner, Bob Marley: “Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing: ‘Cause Every Little Thing Gonna Be All Right!” You can enjoy it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1ZRI0zVpY4. I hope it puts a smile on your face and a melody on your heart as it did for us.
Now of course we can’t endorse a lot of things about this singer/songwriter. But isn’t it interesting that the song’s title is actually, “Three Little Birds”. Well, Jesus did say to behold the birds to trust God and not worry in Matthew 6:25-34:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought [don’t worry, don’t be anxious] for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Can we in Christ face this pandemic situation and say to all its challenges, “No problem!?” Yeah, mon! We can.
This catchy song brought two other songs to mind that we’ve had fun singing around the house also this week (and perhaps tapping our toes and grooving a bit while doing the dishes). Perhaps you should click on the two hyperlinks below and sing along and relax. And listen for the birds that sing even overnight around here and be at peace that God will take care of you 24 hours a day, and you can yet still glorify and enjoy Him during quarantine:
All this is not to make light of the serious circumstances in which we all find ourselves. But this message is to keep us from having heavy hearts, as is the design of the source from which we saw the little boy singing: Some Good News (search it on YouTube and you’ll easily find it). We encourage you to look them up and enjoy them (there are a few things I trust you will have discernment about being less than preferable but I think you can sort it out and find the overall blessing). We especially recommend episode two and the live Zoom version of “Hamilton”: that well written and performed song has stuck in our minds around our house as well this week, and it’s been a blessing.
Don’t worry beloved. Trust Christ and be content in Christ’s strength through all things (Philippians 4:6-13).
This week’s e-devotion and preparation for Sabbath worship comes to us again via our brother Mike Delgado’s sleuthing. I share below what he forwarded to me by Puritan Richard Baxter on whether there are times we may omit Sabbath worship if forbidden by the government (of course, online assemblies would not have been a temporary resource as they are for us now). Let me highlight a few things from his comments below:
“It is one [appropriate and valid] thing to forbid [public church assemblies] for a time, upon some special cause, (as infection by pestilence …
“If the magistrate for a greater good, (as the common safety,) forbid church-assemblies in a time of pestilence … it is a duty to obey him.”
We briefly considered Romans 13:1-10 last week for our submission to the government in such unusual times with a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther. Let us close tonight meditating on Rev. Richard Baxter’s words with 1 Peter 2:13-16 as our Scripture selection:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Here is the larger quote and context:
May the Lord bless us all as we prepare to worship Him together in the Spirit via the webcast.
It has been a long time since I’ve done an e-devotion. My apologies for that. I’ve been working on one to share along with an online video which I’ve referenced in several sermons not long ago. But I could use more time, and I just received a timely sermon selection by Martin Luther in an email from brother Mike Delgado that relates to our situation with the coronavirus which I’d like to share instead with you this evening while providing a link to tomorrow’s bulletin and mp3s of Psalms to sing for your reference and preparation (see the end of this email). As we went to online webcasting of our worship services from the manse last week, a reminder that we still have our live 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. worship services through a video box tool on our homepage (www.puritanchurch.com); www.sermonaudio.com/puritanchurch; or (a new link I learned of that will open the video large in a new screen for easier viewing): https://www.sermonaudio.com/player/webcast/puritanchurch/; (it also can be listened to on a phone line at 712-432-3410 (dial 2 to select a church and then enter our code: 53205).
Below follows the sermon by the Reformer Martin Luther as shared on the weekly Aquila Report (a website resource I highly recommend to you, and you can sign up for their top ten weekly emails). You can search the sermon to learn of the context that is very much relative to our situation with how to handle the coronavirus as the Church presently (and as Mr. Delgado notes in sharing it with me, it would seem to support our church’s present practice as shared in our letter to you per email that is also still available on our website or direct link here: http://puritanchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Corona-Virus-Letter-to-Church-About-Public-Worship-03.21.2020.pdf).
While I did not notice a selected themed Scripture text for Luther’s sermon, let me remind us of Romans 13:1-10 (last week’s morning message text, see especially verse 9) and the Sixth Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17).
They say that it is God’s punishment; if He wants to protect them He can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting Him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.
If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing.
Actually that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have.
He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.
No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate the house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city.
What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way:
“Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.
I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.
If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.
If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary.
Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he in turn should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death. ‘Whoever loves danger,’ says the wise man, ‘will perish by it.’”
Stay safe, beloved. And preserve and protect the lives of others. And let us gather together via tomorrow’s webcast as a covenanted church to worship the Lord on His Holy Day (all who get this e-devotion are most welcome to join us).
Click here to scroll to the
following audio Psalms to play and practice in your family worship for what we
will sing for corporate worship together by our lead from the manse: http://puritanchurch.com/services/psalms/
Psalm 49:1-11, p. 102, Wigton [to tune of “Amazing Grace”]
It has been a long time since I have been able to give proper attention to writing an e-devotional for you. It likely will be a while before I can do so again. But I was so impressed with something I heard on the radio this week which I’d like to quickly pass on to you for your own meditation and benefit.
During his eulogy for President George H.W. Bush this week, former Senator Alan K. Simpson shared about how President Bush never held a grudge and nobly made friendships even with those who were previous opponents and victors over him. Mr. Simpson shared this pithy and profound observation:
He never hated anyone … He knew what his mother and my mother always knew, hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.
I’ll let that simple illustration of the Second Greatest Commandment (based on Leviticus 19:18’s important context) as well as wise self-preservation speak for itself. But two verses that Fernanda and I recently noticed in our devotions through Proverbs were close in proximation and similar in emphasis quickly came to mind upon hearing that quote about President Bush, which I offer here:
Proverb 19:11: The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.
Proverb 20:3: It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
By God’s grace, may we all earn eulogies that highlight such dignity as demonstrated by the legacy of President H.W. Bush.
Something else I think is worth sharing here. Mr. Simpson also commented on how President Bush never lost his sense of humor (though he amusingly could never remember a punchline in telling a joke), and opined: “Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.” Naturally, these other Proverbs also quickly surfaced with a smile (thinking of a sermon this year, “Laughter Can Minister”):
Proverb 15:13: A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
Proverb 15:15: All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.
Proverb 17:22: A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
By God’s grace, may we all keep finding ways to laugh our way through our weeping to get to new joy in every morning and help us live dignified, un-begrudging lives. If you need another suggested resource, ask Rachel and Olivia about a great YouTube Channel some of you have been heartily guffawing over with us upon visits to the manse …
We continue with our devotion through Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The next thing he teaches us is that contentment is “a quiet frame of spirit”. He explains:
Methinks I feel my heart heavy and sad and more than it should be; yet my judgment is satisfied. This seemed to be the position of David in Psalm 42: ‘O my soul, why art thou disquieted?’ … This is a very good psalm for those who feel a fretting, discontented sickness in their hearts at any time to read and sing. He says … twice in that Psalm [and a third time in the following Psalm]: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? … And why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.’
Notice, the psalmists are not saying there’s no place for lament (as has been recently covered in these devotions). Rather, they are asking, “Where and to whom will you go with your depression and what will you do with it: will you choose to wallow or rise? That is, do you want to be consoled?” (As some have said, you can only help those who want to be helped.) There is a way to rise above if you will take the path of contentment’s quieting. I can testify that this is true, even in the most painful times. Jennifer and I went to this Psalm often to seek comfort in our distress as she was dying in the hospital. It did not take away the shadow of the valley of death nor its difficulties for us, but it did bring us closer to God together and thus Him to us, and it did allow us to be able to say for ourselves our other theme verse at that time: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (You can revisit my sermons on Psalm 42 here and 2 Cor. 4:8-9 here during those trials to get us all through together.) The way to get through depression is to discipline ourselves into a grateful expression of praise to God and in that moment He gives us more of Himself to quiet our hearts in Him and even find joy (Ps. 61:2; 71:23; 73:21-28).
Nonetheless, Burroughs admits ” … it is a lesson that you need to learn, and that if contentment is like this then it is not easily obtained.” Once again, that is why contentment is a “rare jewel” per the title of his book, or “an art” according to Thomas Watson in the title of his book on the same subject and theme verse (Philippians 4:11).
Burroughs goes on to explain that contentment not only is a quiet frame of spirit, but this spiritual contentment also “comes from the frame of the soul”. He writes:
The disposition of their own heats causes and brings forth this gracious contentment rather than any external thing … For if a man is to be free from discontent and worry it is not enough merely not to murmur but you must be active in sanctifying God’s name in the affliction.
The other tough lesson we continue to learn about those who will constantly murmur as we return to Numbers tomorrow (chapter 16) should be ample motivation to sanctify the Lord in our hearts through all difficulties so as to protect us from the demon of discontent (as Rev. Ted Donnelly has called it) and rather to trust God to turn our grief to gladness (see this Thanksgiving Day’s sermon).
One last nugget I’ve been meaning to share from my recent readings that is relevant for these devotions on contentment: in his book, Reset, David Murray writes: “Contentment is a wonderful cure for insomnia.” Again, over the last year of working through our heavy loss that has had us greatly cast down, I have learned over time to experience that this is absolutely true and that Satan cannot destroy us and Jesus truly will lighten our burden and lift us up as we cast our cares upon Him: especially if we lay our head on our pillow at night having learnt more contentment during the day’s school of difficulties.
First, a reminder to turn back your clocks tonight for Daylight Saving Time tomorrow.
We return to Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, as a follow-up to our Wednesday night lecture series with Thomas Watson’s, The Art of Divine Contentment. Each book has as its theme verse throughout: … I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11). The last time I wrote, we considered both ministers’ answering of common questions of concern and allowing that there were some things that contentment did not exclude (such as godly lament and seeking to lawfully change one’s situation). Next Burroughs will have us consider to what Biblical contentment is opposed:
“I. It is opposed to murmuring and repining at the hand of God … [This is very important to consider as we return to our sermon series in the book of Numbers tomorrow.]
2. To vexing and fretting … [Consider the refrains of Psalm 37.]
3. To tumultuousness of spirit … [Consider Psalm 46:10.]
4. … to an unsettled and unstable spirit, whereby the heart is distracted from the present duty that God requires in our several relationships, towards God, ourselves and others … [Consider Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalm 43:5.]
6. … to sinking discouragements … So far as your heart sinks and you are discouraged under affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment. [Consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.]
7. It is opposed to sinful shiftings and shirkings to get relief and help … [Here singing the Psalms are extremely helpful, especially 42, 61, 71, and 73.]
8. … quietness of spirit is the opposite of … desperate risings of the heart against God by way of rebellion … [This is especially important considering our morning text tomorrow, Numbers 15:27-36, as well as its previous and following chapters.]
This is quietness of spirit under an affliction … when the soul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.” [Remember our Wednesday night study of Matthew Henry’s book on 1 Peter 3:4 a while back.]
Similar to Burroughs, after resolving questions about how a Christian may lament to God about his condition, Thomas Watson also next warns in his book about what contentment properly excludes or “banishes”:
“1. It excludes a vexatious repining … [in Psalm 55:2] He doth not say I murmur [but I mourn] in my complaint. Murmuring is no better than mutiny in the heart …
2. It excludes an uneven discomposure … when his head and heart are so taken up, that he is not fit to pray or meditate … as when an army is routed …
3. It excludes a childish despondency … care is to the mind as a burden to the back; it loads the spirits, and, with overloading, sinks them.”
Beloved, it has been a while since I’ve been able to share an e-devotion with you to prepare for Sabbath worship. Let me remind you as I have been reminded that this is all something of which we all need to continually be good students. We are never done learning, so long as we are willing to learn by experience. May we more and more be able to say with Paul that we have learned to be content in all things through Christ through Whom we can.