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.
After a long hiatus, we return to our excerpts from Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Let us be good students to learn and become master artists.
Burroughs goes on to say that contentment, “is the quiet of the heart. All is sedate and still there.” Psalm 46:10, 107:29, and Matthew 8:26 come to mind about how God can calm the storms of our lives. However, that recognizes there are storms in our lives. Burroughs next explains that contentment is often:
I. To a due sense of affliction. God gives his people leave to be sensible of what they suffer. Christ does not say, “Do not count as a cross what is a cross”; he says, “Take up your cross daily”.
Frankly, a big part of what helps us fight and have the victory is that we are able to soberly acknowledge we are within many heavy battles until heaven. To do otherwise is to no deal with reality and possibly not really be Christians. Remember that Thomas Watson in his, The Art of Divine Contentment, spent time with “The resolving of some Questions” in chapter five, and the first question he then answered was this: “Whether a Christian may not be sensible of his condition, and yet be contented? Yes; for else he is not a saint, but a stoic.” Did you see what he just said? If you can’t openly suffer and lament, you very well may not be a Christian, but a pagan.
Watson went on to say, “Christ himself was sensible, when he sweat great drops of blood, and said, ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;’ yet he was contented, and sweetly submitted his will: ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’ [Matt. 26:39]. The apostle bids us humble ourselves ‘under the mighty hand of God’ [1 Pet. 5:6], which we cannot do unless we are sensible of it.” (Incidentally, the third most listened to message on our SermonAudio page is the lecture in the series with Watson’s book on contentment that includes chapter 5 and learning you can and should be open about your suffering situation. That message was put up not long ago and I just began my eighth year here: seems like, similar to worry (the not so distant sermon on Matthew 6 is the second highest listened to message ever on our SermonAudio page) people need to know this; so do you and I.
In the same vein, Burroughs continues to explain what contentment is not:
2. It is not opposed to making in an orderly manner our moan and complaint to God, and to our friends.
3. It is not opposed to all lawful seeking or help in different circumstances, nor to endeavouring simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means.
So beloved, as some of you are especially suffering right now, let us weep with you who weep openly as saints and not stoics: it helps alleviate the pain so we can suffer through to rejoice anew. It is not being discontent to lament.
Next time we will see what Burroughs says contentment is opposed to. For now, let us be sure we know what it is not opposed to so we are not wrongly suppressed, even by ourselves, from crying out for relief that we might get it in Christ, through Whom we can do all things as He strengthens us.
We are so thankful to have returned from our 5-week trip to the Land Down Under! We missed you terribly, and though we are still settling it is so goooooooooooood to be home!
As you can imagine, I’ll be up late on sermons so I can’t write much of my own devotion this time, but I did want to say G’Day from San Diego and send you a brief e-devotion on contentment (per my recent series) by use of a lovely video Rachel learned of and shared with me today (its ending caused me to weep deeply).
I think I’d like to just say before you watch it, consider what you have going on in your life that darkens your days and how you can paint a better picture of it in your moments to make the most of every moment, trusting joy will come in the morning. As the old cliches go, “when you’re given lemons, make lemonade”; and, see “the cup as half full” and that “every cloud has a silver lining.”
Or, as Paul put it,
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you … for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:1)
Having described what Christian contentment is, Burroughs begins to help us look at it from various angles to appreciate its myriad aspects. First,
Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing.
It is a work of the Spirit indoors.
Contentment does not come from outside of us. It is a peace that is not of this world without but only from Christ within. As Watson put it in chapter 6, “Contentment is a divine thing: it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion.” Further, “Contentment is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul”, and thus it “doth not depend upon externals.” So let us go inside our hearts and ask the Spirit of Christ abiding there to work out His gracious gift in us, including reminding us that we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us: especially the thing of learning contentment and staying content (see verse 13 in its context with verse 11).
As Burroughs teaches that contentment “is the inward submission of the heart”, he contends that it isn’t simply outward compliance that appears to be at peace because it doesn’t make a fussy show with the body. It is more than that—much more. True contentment is a lack of fretting in our heart of hearts. He writes:
Not only must the tongue hold its peace;
the soul must be silent.
Ah yes, a meek and quiet spirit is the truest test of our spiritual state (and precious in God’s sight: 1 Peter 3:4). Yet both Watson and Burroughs would encourage us to simply be motivated to continue mastering this fine art and mining for the rare jewel. Says Borroughs,
If the attainment of true contentment were as easy as keeping quiet outwardly, it would not need much learning.
God’s beloved, may our hearts open to God working this lesson in us where all His good works begin and grow: in our soul’s offering up its most private and precious places.
Our next installment of Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment deals with being content through affliction (which we saw from our recent Wednesday night studies with Watson’s book on the topic is the main classroom of learning contentment). Burroughs writes:
So far as your heart sinks and you are discouraged under affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment.
His point? The worse our affliction and deeper our agony, the greater we need to apply ourselves as learners of contentment, which is its own medicine. In fact,
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.
This call to quietness and meekness of spirit does not mean we may not lament (we must not be stoics, as Watson and Plumer guided us this Wednesday night). But in taking it to God we come to be still before God and go away calm within our storm glad to have been with God. Like we studied and sang Wednesday night in Psalm 73:21-28: Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins … Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever … But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
This all makes me think of a subtle reminder the Lord sent to me early this morning while listening to Refnet.fm preparing for the day. It was the time when they play lovely music, and the instrumental of “It is Well With My Soul” was beckoning my soul to embrace it; remembering and identifying with the writer’s personal situation behind that song, I did. And it helped and it is helping.
Let us learn contentment more when we need it more so we have more of it when we need it more in certain moments. More on that in the next installment of Burroughs’ guidance on contentment.
While I was caring for Abraham while he was sick this Lord’s Day, I was afforded time to finish my reading of William S. Plumer’s, Jehovah-Jirah: A Treatise on Providence. The book has been a dear friend to me and covers a surprising range of things. Before I close the covers of this volume from the late 1800s, I wanted to share with you parts of his last two chapters, “Providence Over Nations”, and “National Judgments”, in which this American Presbyterian pastor calls upon his country to take heed. Do these words not resonate within our own nation’s political state and trajectory?
God’s Providence Over Nations, Chapter XVII
In general men think far too little of God’s providence over nations …
There are but few men in the world possessed of any considerable wisdom in the management of political affairs …
A pure despotism is the simplest form of government in the world. In it the will of one man decides everything. The moment men depart one step toward constitutional freedom, the government becomes complex. The more freedom, the more difficult it is to understand and adjust the balances of the Constitution and the laws under it …
Men who might understand what ought to be done for a nation’s good are often vain, cruel and sordidly selfish. When wisdom degenerates into cunning, and political acts are cautiously constructed to secure the elevation of their authors, their very gifts are a curse … They often pander to the sins of the nation. Their appeals are to the worst passions of the human breast. Their practice is never better than their principles …
… oftentimes public opinion is more powerful than any statute …
Surely then there is need for the insteppings of Jehovah to guide and govern nations ; nations generally ; each nation in particular. Truly God is their only hope …
What prosperous nation hath not waxed fat and kicked against the Lord? …
When God afflicts any nation let its inhabitants reverently bow before him and humbly submit to his chastisements. Let good men pray and trust in the providence of God. He can deliver them and their nation out of all their troubles …
We should guard against becoming violent partisans in the state, to which we belong … let not good men associate with lewd fellows of the baser sort in their howlings against law and order … Let God’s people be very careful how they participate in a revolution …
The character of agitator is anti-christian …
The world never understands Christian character. With it gospel humility is meanness, faith in the testimony of God is fanaticism, firmness is dogged stubbornness …
… what can be done with men, who have no magnanimity? Many refuse to draw any distinction between the ravings of fanaticism, and the purest and most humble piety. Mobs have often pronounced themselves patriotic ; but is there no difference between a mob and a band of patriots? And is there no difference between the enlightened, humble, unswerving piety of a true Christian, and the wild, lawless radicalism, which sometimes rises up, not from religion, but from the bottomless pit, and assumes the garb of piety to screen or to sanctify its abominations? …
… true piety has always secured good conduct in subjects and citizens, and made them blessings to the land they inhabited …
Quoting an unnamed Anglican writer: … it is the modern fashion to feed delightfully on the fruit, and then revile, if not curse, those who planted and watered it. How often have the best men been cast out of church establishments, and then charged with the sin of schism.
Providence Punishes Nations for Their Sins, Chapter XVIII
God’s providence is over both persons and nations. In this world retribution to persons is imperfect, for they will be dealt with hereafter. But nations exist here only. Whatever rewards or punishments they receive must be temporal …
Sins are national, either by their prevalence among a people, or by being sanctioned by national authority. When the law-making power of a country decrees unrighteousness and frames wickedness by a law ; when its executive power is wielded for cruelty, or favoritism ; when the judges of a land are corrupt, and justify the guilty and condemn the innocent, then a fearful reckoning is not far off. So when iniquity abounds in the members of a nation, its punishment is near …
But the Scriptures make it very clear that nothing is more offensive to God than the rejection of his Gospel by a people …
Great favors impose great obligations. The greater the mercy, the greater the responsibility …
In every land some refuse the yoke of Christ. Sometimes many do it secretly. But when the hostility is bold and aversion rises to the point of malignity, and opposition builds up adverse systems, and all this with the clear light shining, a nation has reached an appalling crisis …
Sometimes this rejection is accompanied by anti-christian legislation …
Sometimes a people go further and cruelly persecute all who oppose their wicked course …
In his History of Redemption, Edwards says: “We read in Scripture of scacre any destruction of nations but that one main reason given for it is, their enmity and injuries against God’s church, and doubtless this was one main reason of the destruction of all nations by the flood.” …
Men sometimes reject the Gospel by making a hypocritical profession of it …
This public opinion, perverted, is potent for mischief. It knows no limits. It has no checks as every written law has. It can make hypocrites faster than the apostles made converts …
To such a people Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing for the fruits thereof.’ Matt. xxi. 43. …
Isaiah 60:12:For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.
Let us not think we may treat the Gospel as we please and yet be safe …
God is in history. Let the people of America be no exception to this call … Let us not trust in man to preserve us … Let us all beware of a morbid excitability of temper. “The mock heroic falsetto of stupid tragedy” will create a thirst for the horrible, till at last our people will gloat over scenes of carnage … What shall be the future character of the busy millions of America …? …
… if any people learn habitually to slight offered mercy their future course will open an Iliad of calamities, appalling to the stoutest heart. The prophetic roll of such a country’s history is written within and without with lamentations, and mourning, and woe …
Let each man remember his own awful responsibility to God. The way that nations rise in worth, or sink in ruin, is by the individuals, who compose them, walking humbly with God or renouncing their portion in Jacob. Aggregated masses are the sum of the good or ill inwoven into the character of their component parts. The union of good men is right, and it is strength. Let every man rule his own heart. He is the best patriot, who walks most according to the moral law and the example of Christ, and who most fervently implores the blessing of heaven on his people and country …
Psalm 33:12:Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.
Proverbs 14:34:Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.
People of America! Beware how you trifle with sin, how you make light of God’s authority, and revel in iniquity …
But some are hopeless cases. Nothing moves them. God chastises them, but they make their hearts harder than adamant. He invites them by mingled words of entreaty and of authority, but they pass heedlessly along …
Yet no signs of devouring wrath now strike their or our senses. Earthquakes, it is said, are preceded by an unusual stillness in nature …
God calls the whole nation to repentance … Will not all, individually, turn and live? …
If the nation repents, it will be by each man bewailing his sins, believing in Christ, and so fleeing from the wrath to come. “GOD NOW COMMANDETH ALL MEN EVERYWHERE TO REPENT.” OBEY, AND LIVE.
I close with something Plumer wrote in an earlier chapter: “Public opinion often errs. Individual judgments are as often erroneous … He that judgeth us is the Lord.”
Here is our next supplemental installment to Watson’s, Art of Divine Contentment on Wednesday nights from Burroughs’ Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Chapter 1, “Christian Contentment Described.”
His starting point for the book is the same as for Watson’s study on the same subject, Philippians 4:11, the second part: … I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Burroughs writes, “Our great Apostle holds forth experimentally in this Gospel-text the very life and soul of all practical divinity.” Well then, we are wise to learn this lesson of contentment for our own soul’s practice of gaining godliness.
He notes that the word “content” technically can only be attributed to God because the LORD alone is self-sufficient (related to the attribute of God we have studied, His aseity). Yet, because Paul knows Jesus Christ personally and has His Spirit within him, Burroughs points out that he can say, “I have a self-sufficiency, which is what the word [contentment] means.” This is not the idea of self-reliant independency of God, but rather of being independent of the need for others to be satisfied within ourselves because of our sustaining relationship with God and within His Body.
Thus, we who know the grace of God in Jesus Christ can say verse 13 of the same chapter teaching us to build more Christ-esteem: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” And we in Christ can then indeed say for ourselves, “A good man is satisfied from himself” (Proverbs 14:14).
Lastly, Burroughs offers us the following description (notice, not a definition, which is probably the above as “self-sufficiency” in Christ’s adequately strengthening abundance):
Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.
Or, as Paul puts it, “in whatsoever state I am … I can do all things”: namely, be content. May we learn to put it that way for ourselves, that is, in our own growing exercise of Christian self-sufficiency.
Before we actually get to his own words, I’d like to take a look at what was said about him in the forward by Michael Boland related to Burroughs’ work as a member of the Westminster Assembly. Boland shares that although Borroughs was part of the Independent minority (a very small one) that opposed the majority’s work on certain features of Westminster’s form of Presbyterian church government, he “deplored the deep division which ensued” related to the ‘Five Dissenting Brethren’. “One of his most famous works was Irenicum or Heart-Divisions Opened, in which he pleaded for the unity of all who loved the truth, and argued that what made comparatively minor differences into causes of rigid divisions was a wrong spirit and wrong motives.”
We may not be able to have organizational relations with all whom we should yet otherwise call and purpose to treat as brethren in organic ways. We should be eager for such friendship and fellowship and go out of our way to foster it as a church with other churches, especially with those most like-minded. This doesn’t mean we don’t have to draw lines at times that may cause some distance with some in certain regards. But may we have a right spirit and motive for all those whom God shed His own blood in ways that witness we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3) and trust that Christ will reward us with the fruit of more peaceful contentment which is not of this world.
Semper Reformanda, Pastor Grant
PS: Have you had more classrooms for learning more contentment present themselves to you this week just as we saw how Paul’s practice lessons were procured? So did I. Let’s make sure we are good students of God’s precepts in these providences so that we grow more content in all these things.
Next Wednesday night we will begin studying Thomas Watson’s, The Art of Divine Contentment, and I plan to use our weekly (Lord-willing) e-devotions/Pastor’s Posts to share the “cliff notes” of Jeremiah Burrough’s, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment along the way as a companion complement of sorts to our midweek corporate devotion.
Watson’s theme verse for the book is Philippians 4:11, which reads in part: ... I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Notice that contentment is not something that comes naturally—it must be learned by deliberate study and purposeful practice, especially when difficult providences are displayed before us.
In anticipation of our study on contentment, tonight I’d like to share another nugget from William S. Plumer in his treatise on Providence entitled, Jehovah-Jireh. In the section of his book about God’s special providence over saints is a subsection that reads as follows: XI. When means have been blessed to conversion of his people, how strange the providences of God which lead to their growth in grace! In this subsection, he quotes this “paradoxical” poem by someone he does not name [John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”, see P.S. below]:
I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love and every grace ;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answered prayer ;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d answer my request ;
And by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea, more ; with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my wo ;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’
‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’
‘These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.’
The Lord truly works in mysterious ways in bringing us nearer Him Who is the Way and the Truth to give us more of His abundant life as He reveals His mysteries to us. With that in view, as we prepare for Watson’s, Art of Divine Contentment let us close with more words by Plumer a little later on in his book:
It is a divine art to view the hand of God in everything.
Let us develop a keen eye for God’s wise and skillful brushstrokes while then stepping back a bit to behold His whole picture that we are simply a part of, so that we would become masterfully artful at studying our Master’s hand and learn to appreciate what we’re looking at.
PS: The context of Newton’s poem is striking: “He and his friend William Cowper had embarked on a project that was to become the Olney Hymns Collection, but not long into the project, Cowper went insane. Newton wrote that it seemed as though God was going out of his way to make life difficult for him and then realized that even through adversity, God continues to work.” (Source, with the lyrics put to music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cnEDUMfPXs)
On the occasion of my daughter, Olivia Rose, taking her communicant membership vows before you this morning to be received into full communion and begin taking the Lord’s Supper this evening, wherein I will be charging her to Keep Picking Up and Passing on the Faith and to Keep Raising Up the Cup, I thought it fitting to share with you something personal in our family.
Recently, I took the children with me to attend a meeting with my lawyer’s team in Escondido where I signed my updated last will and testament and my new trust and advance health directive and choice of guardianship with other related forms. Due to our loss of Jennifer, I needed to update these forms and create a trust for the children, should anything happen to me. I intended for it to be a solemn occasion that they would always remember for how they live in the honor of their Mother’s name and for their father but most importantly for their Heavenly Father’s good name.
Before we began the meeting, I opened us in prayer and then charged the children to take this seriously. I told them they should feel safe and that this was taking care of them as minors and they should be thankful. Further, if when they come of age they were to deny Christ and abandon His Church by their word or works (Titus 1:16), I would update my will and take them out of it because I could not then trust them to be good stewards of Christ’s resources entrusted to me. I later told them that if they defected from the faith later on as adults literally or practically by neglect that I would consider myself a failure as a father and I wanted them to know that nothing else they may accomplish in their lives would matter to me at all if they were not doing all in and for Jesus Christ and His Church.
At the end of the meeting, the lawyer came in (an elder in a conservative Presbyterian church) and charged the children to take this seriously and live out their Christian heritage in honor of their father and mother and to trust only in the Lord Jesus Christ and live only for Him. Then he prayed for us.
Afterward, we were late for Abraham’s basketball practice nearby (another reason I took the children with me to this meeting). I apologized and asked if they thought this was worth attending. Abraham exclaimed, “That’s OK, I would way more want this meeting than basketball practice!” You see, when we take our children seriously for Christ and expect them to take Christ seriously, they will respond in kind in the context of the covenant family and be honored to do so. God will honor them that honor Him and He will bless them that seek to bless His name with Himself, and this promise is also for our children.
By taking this all very seriously I had hoped it would help the children take their lives very seriously from an early age and not consider what I might leave to them later as a right to claim but a privilege of which to be good stewards or have it revoked. By so doing, I found myself even more impressed with my own duty to leave them a good and meaningful spiritual legacy by my own life and how I go about passing it on to them. I let the children know that I had remembered the church and another ministry in my will for a percentage of it if all other things were first taken care of for them, and that if I lived to their adulthood and they didn’t really need it I would adjust the will to give them only a percentage of my assets and upfront include the church and another charity for a percentage as other beneficiaries much in need of support to carry on (probably more than they would need it): they thought this made perfect sense. I want them to now be thinking of using their time, talents, and treasures as stewards for Christ, not themselves, unto and through their deaths.
I prepared a Christian preamble for my will that I then read to them at home. I said I did not want them to only be comforted and convicted by it at my death, but at the beginning of their lives to live for and up to it as I so will endeavor to do for Christ and His Kingdom, with this memory as a meaningful reference to look back on at the time they will gather again to review it later on. They said it was lovely and they were very thankful to have heard it now from me alive, not just later after my death, and that it did give meaning to their lives. I share this preamble with you here and encourage you to think about whether you are taking your lives for Christ seriously enough and whether you are challenging your children to do the same in such tangible, sobering, proactive ways. And whether you are willing to put it into writing.
I, Grant E. Van Leuven, a resident of the city of Chula Vista in San Diego County, California, do hereby testify that I am a Christian who serves the only and true Triune God. I want to remind especially my children, whom I here mainly address, that I have placed all my hope of life hereafter in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Way, Truth, Life, and Resurrection. His life, death, and resurrection have given my life meaning and make my death a purposeful passage into a greater degree of glory where Christ has prepared a place for me in His Father’s house and where He will stand and greet me as He did Stephen in Acts 7 and as we trust He so brought your Mother through the valley of the shadow of death while we sang her into heaven with Psalm 23. I am now more intimately and immediately experiencing my chief and final end to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever.
I want my children to know that for me to live was Christ, and to die is now my gain, and to be absent in the body is now to be present with my Lord and Good Shepherd along with the cloud of witnesses, including your Mother, who went before us.
I want my friends and family to rejoice with me as I declare my completed faith in Jesus Christ my Savior. I am assured by faith in His Sovereign Grace that after my life of joy and sorrow, accomplishments and failures, I will live eternally in the presence of our Heavenly Father where there is fulness of joy—and at His right hand with Jesus, where there are pleasures forevermore. This is possible not because I have earned or deserved it, but because Jesus, the God-man, lived and died in my place and rose and ascended to the right hand of God in the true Holy of Holies to intercede for me as my only mediatorial prophet, priest, and king. Having enjoyed the first resurrection and endured the first death by the Holy Spirit’s comfort and empowering and enlightening guidance, I now live with Christ face-to-face looking forward to the second resurrection with the peace of being spared the second death.
I borrow these last words of David Dickson, co-author of The Sum of Saving Knowledge, on his death bed: “I have taken all my good deeds, and all my bad deeds, and cast them in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in him I have sweet peace.” Further, I adopt the words that Dr. J. Gresham Machen sent in a telegram to Professor John Murray shortly before he died: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”
I encourage my children to go back and listen to my sermon series through Psalm 23 to be comforted and encouraged and to hold fast and overcome. As well, as could have been said by your Mother in our presence had she been able to speak in her last moments with us, hear Paul’s words as hers and mine and as my grateful resolve having faith’s fruit (especially your fruit) to look back on, knowing that my labor was not in vain and that I shall receive my reward of the inheritance for serving the Lord Christ: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” May these also be your sincere dying words and thoughts.
I ask my children, whom I dearly love, never to forget the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, including bringing up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. May God bless you and yours through the same means as He did Abraham in Genesis 18:19. Be good stewards of your time, talents, and treasures so that you leave your own covenant family legacy and heritage, material and and especially spiritual, to your seed. And love and serve Christ’s Church, which is His Body, Bride, House, and Family, and the Pillar and Ground of the Truth—and out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. May God grant you peace, love, and strength as he guides you through this life. Then at the end of time, we and your Mother and your three unborn siblings who went before her will be reunited in the New Heaven and Earth as a happy family with our new spiritual bodies.
I commit myself to God’s care, secure in his love for me and trusting in the salvation purchased for me through Christ’s suffering and death. I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith and have now joined my Lord in eternal glory. I commend my loved ones to the protecting arms of God, knowing that He will continue to provide for you despite my absence; and I encourage you to place your faith and trust in Him alone and never in the world for your daily bread, comfort, and peace. I look forward to seeing you all who are truly in and with Christ again in our life hereafter, where we will all live with our Lord Jesus.
Do not sorrow without hope. Remember what the Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer number 86 teaches. Question: What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death? Answer: The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls …
Also, may all who read this be keeping sober guard of your lives and souls, watching for King Jesus’ return on a white horse and on the clouds of heaven, by the closing words of the above answer: … Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.
Further, I refer my heirs to Deuteronomy, the eighth chapter, and charge you not to “… say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth …” Remember how your Mother and I baptized and raised you as and to be Christians and peculiar people, and be no covenant breakers but covenant keepers. “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.”
I request that my heirs remember that everything they have is a trust from the Father of Heavenly Lights. Take heed never to forget that you are merely stewards of what the Lord has given me and you, and that you will give an account of your stewardship of your Master’s things when Emmanuel returns at the Last Great Day. Be good servants and stewards of the faith and life legacy I now pass on to you in full by the gracious hand and in the mighty name of my faithful and true Master, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Behold, He comes quickly. Prepare and endeavor to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant,” when He does.
I being of sound and disposing mind, memory, and understanding, do hereby declare this document to be my Last Will and Testament, hereby revoking any and all my prior Wills and Codicils.
PS: I borrowed much of the language for this preamble from free sources online. Anyone who may find this preamble helpful and want to adopt it for updating (or beginning) their own wills are welcome to use it.
Last Lord’s Day’s morning sermon based on Ephesians 3:8 encouraged us to more deeply explore “the unsearchable riches of Christ”. We were exhorted to “Keep Searching Out Christ”, as His mercies are new every morning for great is His faithfulness.
We remembered in that sermon the words by Wilhelmus à Brakel which we wondered over during our Wednesday night study that same week leading up to worship:
… His intercession is efficacious to the superlative degree.
Today, I read a wonderful meditation by William S. Pulmer in Jehovah-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence that rang to the same lovely tune as à Brakel’s:
Observe, first, several words, nearly synonymous, are used to teach us the doctrine, such is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, pitiful, slow to anger, and not satisfied with the positive the inspired writers use the superlative: very pitiful and very gracious too.
Observe, secondly, that not content with the singular, mercy, by a felicitous fault of style, they adopt and employ the plural form, mercies … nor are they content with a simple plural; but they speak of these mercies as manifold, yea, they speak of the multitude of his mercies … And to denote that there is nothing uncertain about these mercies, they speak of them as sure mercies; … But they are not mere mercies, but tender mercies … Daniel goes further still; he says: ‘To the Lord our God belong mercies’ and forgiveness? No; but ‘forgivenesses.’
Thirdly, there is another set of phrases they use; they speak of God as rich in mercy, plenteous in mercy, and full of compassion; they speak of his abundant mercy, of the earth as full of his mercy, to denote its amplitude; and in respect of its continuance, they say his compassions fail not, and there is a Psalm  in which twenty-six times it is said, His mercy endureth forevever. There is still another phraseology used by the sacred writers. They speak of God’s kindness, his great kindness, his marvelous kindness, his everlasting kindness; but they are not satisfied to speak of it as simple kindness; they call it merciful kindness, and speak of it as great toward us.
Indeed, let us approach the Lord’s Supper tomorrow night rejoicing that our cup runneth over with His blood of the everlasting covenant! Thus, we have plenty of reasons to be superfluous in our praise of our gracious God tomorrow together, do we not?