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.
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.
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.
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)
Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness … so reads Psalm 112:4.
Thomas Watson quoted this Scripture in his lengthy exposition of the beatitude we look at tomorrow night, Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9), in his chapter about the benefits of being children of God. In particular, Watson references the Psalm within his section, “God works all things for their good”, under the subsection, “Evil things work for good to God’s children.” Then he explains among other things what I trust several of us in our little church will find reassuring:
Sickness works for their good. It shall bring the body of death into a consumption [the using up of a resource]. ‘Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day’ (2 Corinthians 4:16) … When the body withers the soul of a Christian flourishes. How often have we seen a lively faith in a languishing body! Hezekiah was better on his sick bed than upon his throne. When he was upon his sick-bed he humbles himself and weeps. When he was on his throne he grew proud (Isaiah 39:2). God’s children recover by sickness. In this sense, ‘out of weakness they are made strong’ (Hebrews 11:34).
Then Watson discusses two other things that I believe our church can especially appreciate while we also prepare for the last beatitudes next week that seem to go together in Matthew 5:10-12:
Disgrace increases their grace. The husbandman by dunging his ground makes the soil more rich and fertile. God lets the wicked dung his people with reproaches and calumnies [slanders], that their hearts may be a richer soil for grace to grow in …
Persecution to God’s children works for good. The godly may be compared to that plant which Gregory Nazianzen speaks of. It lives by dying and grows by cutting. The zeal and love of the saints is blown up by sufferings. Their joy flourishes. Tertullian says the primitive Christians rejoiced more in their persecutions than in their deliverances.
That last sentence is amazing, but it echoes what Paul writes:
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Many of us have recently discussed the Bible’s doctrine of suffering and how too few Christians are willing to acknowledge it, never mind embrace it (a reading of chapters 1 and 2 of Job should prove a helpful corrective, especially 1:20-21 and 2:10 with what later follows in 13:15). We may indeed find special strength in Christ when He calls on us to fellowship with Him in weakness and sufferings (Philippians 3:10). For the darker our days in certain seasons, the brighter the Light of the World is reflected in our teary eyes.
Let us hold tightly to the Calvinist motto of the Protestant Reformation, Post tenebras lux: “after darkness, light.”
I was impressed with something I recently heard a celebrated American composer and singer-songwriter share that I’d like to pass on to you, my friends and brethren:
I’ve had hopeless times in my life about different things, and you just have to persevere, because one day that door does open and if you don’t persevere you won’t be there when it does. – Carol King
One of Ms. King’s songs, “Beautiful”, closes with these words as what would seem to be her life’s motto as she described above:
I have often asked myself the reason for sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby
If there’s any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try
You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes, you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel
Of course, you all are beautiful because you are a new creature in Christ. So I think of all people we Christians can live out those words to “Beautiful” most fully with Christ in view. We don’t always feel beautiful, but as we look to Christ and one another we can anew. Because you are beautiful, beloved. I think of your collective inner beauty so often displayed as you continue on with one another through thick and thin submitting to the Word of God. As I think of the theme verse to Matthew Henry’s Quest in our Wednesday Night studies together, I deeply cherish your … ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:4).
Seeing ourselves in Christ as His betrothed wife, let us be motivated to keep our hand to the plow in and out of season as one beloved body knowing that while we often sow in tears we shall always reap in joy. Or as Paul put it, … let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall always eap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:8-9)
I’ve been meditating on the following verses recently about holding fast to overcome together in and for Christ:
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:6-10)
Notice how we persevere: together as one. For, A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity; and, A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24)
Indeed, indeed. How thankful are we that Jesus Christ calls us His friends and brethren and promises to never leave us nor forsake us (John 15:14; Hebrews 2:11-12, 13:5). And beloved, as you have continually shown in word and deed to my family and me through our troubling times, let me say on behalf of the Van Leuvens to all of you (in what I trust is only review):
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend
When people can be so cold
They’ll hurt you and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh, but don’t you let them
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
In the tapestry of His providence, though the Lord at times closes a door to us we trust that He will at other times open another wide, and I look forward to being here together to walk through them hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, when He does.
For Christ and His Kingdom,
PS: Another thing Ms. King said I think we all can use a reminder about is this: “… don’t fail to try, because if you don’t try, you can’t succeed.”
And on a lighter note, and for a fun factoid, I was surprised to learn that when she composed the music for, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”, it was to accompany the lyrics that her song-writing partner and husband at the time, Gerry Goffin, had written—men can empathize! 🙂 Incidentally, he got the idea for the song while walking out of a building in New York City and another man and friend passing by in a car yelled out to him through the window, “Why don’t you write a song called ‘Natural Woman’?”
As I’ve been preparing to preach Psalm 23 in the evening services of October, I’ve been reading a number of books by pastors who had also been actual shepherds in Scotland and East Africa that I’ll be drawing on a lot for lovely illustrations. I’d like to share something I read in J. Douglas MacMillan’s, The Lord Our Shepherd with you here that I hope will encourage you as we keep serving the Lord together in and out of season:
The shepherd moves very quietly in the hills as the lambing season approaches, and the sheep hardly notice he is there. They hardly notice he is there because (and only because) the lambing season is coming … I wondered if what you think of as barrenness is the beginning of a great lambing season again in the churches and in the flock of God … Let us pray that it is.
Beloved, as we plan and prepare our humble neighborhood outreach event this month, as we continue to spread the precious Seed through our community with monthly door-to-door evangelism, as we yet still by God’s grace maintain a weekly radio program, and while we slowly seek to develop a new, tiny, denominational home, may we be encouraged to keep waiting on the Holy Spirit to move when and where He wills. And may these words from The Word once again remind us that our seemingly barren times (at times) may actually prove to be birthing seasons:
Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:6-10)
These were words sent by God to His church to restart the abandoned rebuilding of itself upon barren ruins. And through men like Nehemiah and Ezra along with their people who had a mind and hands to work, God did erect the city walls and His temple anew! And they all surely skipped like lambs once they beheld completed what God had already seen finished!
I have not had time to write a weekly e-devotion lately, but today I thought I’d share with you some photos of a special moment we captured while Jennifer and I enjoyed our anniversary lunch together at an outdoor cafe overlooking La Jolla Coves last month. This sparrow family was busy having its own lunch just behind where we were sitting.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. But I’ll also give Scripture captions for each, some of which came to mind while enjoying what I hope you’ll enjoy below.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought 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? (Matthew 6:25-26)
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. (Psalm 84:3)
Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her … (Jeremiah 12:9a)
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. (Ruth 2:12)
Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, (Psalm 17:8)
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings … (Malachi 4:2a)
With the egregious Supreme Court decision about gay marriage now forced upon our land, here are a few things to be thinking about.
First, while some of the rhetoric of the LGBT movement is to no longer be held back by the past, this is nothing new or socially revolutionary (or evolutionary). From ancient times, homosexuals have tried to force themselves and their ways upon the righteous: revisit this sermon.
Second, the obsession with being accepted as “equal” is obviously absurd (where do such get their children? not from their own biological union, even now that it is formally legal). Still, the issue is not so much equality as identity: revisit this Pastor’s Post. The audacious baiting of approving applause and authoritative sanction is really a desperate drive to drown out the unaccepting voice of The Supreme Judge still speaking to the conscience (Romans 2:15) that one is truly identifying with the Devil in such abominations.
Third, we should not be talking so much about God’s judgment soon to be coming upon our nation but God’s judgment having just been further manifested upon we the people. Read Romans 1:26-32. And read this post. While we should wonder how God might respond to the White House boasting of this new law coming upon our land “like a thunderbolt” as it illuminates itself in the colors of His covenant sign, the greater national sexual context against God’s Biblical Law has cultured such corruption. And it is particularly our fault. The Church throughout this nation has long been lukewarm for her first love and His marriage expectations. We just go with the flow cowardly and unthinkingly. Consider these words from my readings this week while wondering about the Church’s state of the union:
Men are more ready to follow the bad examples of evil men than to follow the good example of righteous men. The example of the ungodly is like a mighty stream and it requires both determination and effort to swim against such a current. Most men are like the dead leaves of autumn that simply float wherever the stream may take them. As the saying goes, ‘even a dead fish can swim downstream.’ (Richard Bacon, The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness)
Our culture is an amusement culture. I have at times pondered the word ‘amusement.’ ‘Muse’ means ‘to think.’ The ‘ment’ at the end of the word means ‘to be in the state of.’ And to put an ‘a’ in front of it makes the word mean ‘to be in a state of non-thinking.’ That’s really where our [church] culture is. (John Armstrong, “Preaching to the Mind”, in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Please for Preaching)
… people shun serious thoughts: ‘My people doth not consider.’ Hence it is they do not look after pardon. (Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer)
Luke 13:24 says to Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. John MacArthur points out that “strive” in the Greek means “to agonize”. We must agonize over our ethical steps to influence the direction of our country!
Notice that Psalm 23:3-4 speaks of our walking in paths of righteousness within the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The Christian’s straight and narrow pilgrimage must not meander off into moral darkness on either side.
The horizon of our walk through this one nation refusing to be under God’s Law just got dimmer. But our Good Shepherd will comfort us with His crook after correcting us with His rod, and He will still lead us. He and we are the only hope for light at the end of the tunnel. Hold His Word before your path and feet, That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (Philippians 2:15)
Motivated by the church’s recent Homemaker’s movie night, we began reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress for family worship. We are making a point to look up a Scripture that summarizes each vivid part. The beginning of the story drew our souls back once more to Matthew 7:13-14:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
During our devotional discussion, we were reminded of how children often cry to their parents, “But everyone else is doing it!” and of the wise, parental, rhetorical reply that always follows: “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” The logic is obvious: just because many people are doing something does not make it a right or safe thing for us to join in with. In fact, more often than not, it turns out disastrously for us.
As Jesus says to follow the narrow way, and as He is the Way, then if we truly are in fellowship with Him we will not walk under the cloak of darkness (1 John 1:6). The multitudes venture out at night with the Devil but we must stay safe under the cover of our covenant homes.
In our men’s study this week we read a sobering warning in Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State (chapter two regarding our natural sinful state after the Fall):
“Nothing is more plain, than that generally men choose rather to do what the most do, than what the best do.”
Beloved, that you would make it to the Celestial City, choose to follow the best — they alone will lead you along the narrow and only way to get to where the Prince of Peace will open His doors to you.
At our Homemakers Movie Night last month, something really stood out to me as helpful for our own Christian Pilgrimage that I’d like to review with you. In the modern retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress, “Journey to Heaven”, a great pearl of wisdom was shared for how to make morally sound and safe choices that steer clear of temptation’s potholes.
While Christian regained his footing toward the Celestial city after getting lost and nearly dying several times along broader roads, he asked, “How will I know which way to go?” He was answered, “You will always know which way to go. It will always be the narrow way.”
This is such a simple and important principle for our sanctified survival, brethren: when you need to choose what to do, don’t do what everyone else does or says to do. You will always know which way to go. It will always be the narrow way.
Satan will constantly tempt you to leave God’s path of walking with Jesus. He will never cease to present you with an alluring alternative where majority rules. Two ways will always stare you in the face. One will be well-worn by many a worldly boot. Satan says, “Go that way!” and you will want to. Myriad crowds rush by to get ahead of you and spin through its turnstiles. You would be going with the flow — but at the end of the road it spills over a cliff into hot liquid rock.
Jesus says, “I am the Way” (John 14:6). Very few find or follow Him. And many who say they do prove instead to be driving by the world’s roadmap because they hug the same curves, pack the same bags, and talk about the same points of interest as they hang out at the same rest stops.
Choosing which way to go is not a complicated decision. But it is a hard one. Yet it is the right one. When you follow the Light, in stead of walking with the living dead your feet will be in step with those who live forever at the Resurrection. Jesus says:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Don’t let the Serpent seduce you. You always will know which way to step if you are soberly and spiritually seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Look for the narrow way. Look for the path that is least traveled and of the greatest resistance. That is always the way to go! Whatever ethical choice you face in this life, always look for the small but sincere line of advancing and always go that way.
Don’t trick yourself into saying, “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know where to turn!” Yes you do, Pilgrim. The decision is always clear. There are two choices: one is sinful and one is Biblical. You will always know for sure what to do. If at times your eyes strain a bit when the sky grows dim and the air thickens around you, simply ask, “What are most people doing?” and then do the opposite. Listen to which way the the multitudes are trotting and let them leave you in their dust. Watch which way the masses point and let them wag their fingers at you as you solemnly wave goodbye and turn around to go the other direction. You will always know which way to go. It will always be the narrow way.
Follow the footprints of Noah and Enoch! Walk with the wise and you will find even along the way that you have chosen wisely and are becoming wiser (Proverb 13:20). Beloved, your gait will quicken when you lighten your load and begin to hear the cloud of witnesses that chose this same path earlier on now cheering you on (Hebrews 12:1). They will be worshipping with you tomorrow in God’s heavenly throne room, where Jesus will remind you that in truth you are never traveling alone (Hebrews 13:5).
We rejoice to share with you that we brought Jennifer back to the hospital today to take her chemotherapy pump off as the last “installment” of six months of her initial treatment. My lovely wife has been so brave. We thank God that the treatment is healing her, and that He has proven to be faithful to His promise not to give us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In fact, as always, God held us up through it all in His mighty hand. Jennifer will need more medical care. But a song by Moriah Peters, “You Carry Me”, playing on the radio just as we parked the caravan to run up and join Mommy in the waiting room was perfect timing to motivate me and the children as we enter this milestone transition with her. We had never heard the (upbeat, cheery) song before: providential, indeed. My youngest daughter (who it seems felt the poignancy of the lyrics overlapping the moment) said what I was thinking as the song lingered in our hearts while we took our toddler out of his car seat and shut the doors: “That was really encouraging.” Let me share the chorus with you:
Every moment of my life
God, You never left my side
Every valley, every storm
You were there, You were there I don’t need to know what’s next You’ll be with me every step
Through it all, through it all
I can see You carry me
Here’s the song’s video:
As we were relieved to make it through this first phase of Jennifer’s treatment together, and as we have learned through it all to trust God a little better now facing the next phase (which should be less trying and more manageable), Psalm 31:15 came to mind with the bolded section above:
My times are in thy hand …
There’s great peace in that resolve. I think that’s what my daughter was experiencing. You know, I couldn’t remember any of the words to the song when we got home, so I asked her if she recalled anything. I searched the only lyrics that came to her mind, and found the song online — what stayed with her (obviously reaching her) were the bolded words above. She’s nine years old. That really touches me. That really blesses me.
We found an interview with Mrs. Peters about the background of “You Carry Me”. Along with speaking about marrying her husband (lead singer of For King and Country) in San Clemente, CA (where some of you live), she shared:
I often forget that God is faithful, and that I’m not alone, and that leads me to feel discouraged or afraid. And I wanted the song … to be a reminder … that no matter what difficulty we’re facing, no matter how hard the storm or the situation, no matter how many questions we’re asking, no matter how many doubts we’re experiencing, that God never leaves … He carries us through those difficult times when we’re at the end of our rope, when we don’t have enough strength, He’s there to be that for us.
At the end of watching this interview, my daughter again said (as sprightly as before), “That’s really encouraging.” May you be encouraged, beloved, that Jesus truly will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). It is so empowering to be reminded as we go on with our lives, as shaky as they can be, that He yet promises to hold us securely in His hands. And so He surely does.
Here’s the interview:
PS: here is a live version of the song in Air1’s Studio:
Recently, Elder Renner shared with me a video about gymnast, Jennifer Bricker, and her incredible life achievements. What is most surprising and thus most impressive about her life is what might have curtailed her dream of being a champion gymnast: she was born without legs.
So how did Miss Bricker overcome her pretty significant natural obstacle? The love of her adoptive parents, and their one simple rule they required of her: never say the word, “can’t”. Or, as she put it, “Can’t is not part of your vocabulary.” So what must she say, or live, instead? “I can”.
Here’s a video interview about her story (naturally, we regret and grieve the breaking of the Third Commandment late in the interview):
What a wonderful and inspiring example for we Christians to apply to ourselves so that we apply ourselves to Philippians 4:13:
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
The context of this verse, as you know, is to not worry and to be content in all situations. Certainly, in this amazing woman’s situation, it would have been tempting to let fear and worry and self pity be paralyzing all her life. But it wasn’t, because she insisted on moving forward and living. May you and I be motivated by Miss Bricker and cut out the “‘t’s” and focus instead on consistently putting together “c” “a” “n”. Especially in living a good, peaceful, and moral life in and by and for our Lord Jesus Christ.
PS: With a young and aspiring gymnast in our own house, we recently watched the “Gabby Douglas Story”. While this Olympic Gold Medalist had different challenges, they were similarly hindering and potentially crippling in realizing her dream, had she not had a very similar family and personal resolve that also produced remarkable results.
This Lord’s Day we will see in the morning by the Golden Candlestick (or Lampstand/Menorah), that Christ always shines in us, His true Tabernacle. The Holy Spirit will never run out in His Church. We will also see that we, the true Tabernacle, are intended to shine His light before the world (Mat. 5:14, John 8:12). In the evening sermon, we will be reminded that the way we keep shining (and thus survive in effectual salvation, persevering unto the end) is to keep holding God’s glowing Word out before us:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Perhaps you need help holding up the Bible before you so that you walk in the light and don’t bump around in the darkness of this world. This week, I’d like to share the following song I wrote a while back. It’s not polished, but a friend of mine (Kenny Woods of WORD-FM in Pittsburgh, where and with whom I used to work, doing his excellent work on the keys) recorded it quickly with me in the studio after hours with some other “Song Sketches” just to have it. I’ve been thinking about this song in light of tomorrow’s messages, especially the evening sermon with Psalm 119:105 as our featured text. I hope it will help you to meditate in Christ’s saving and enduring light:
Song Sketch Intro:
I think we all go through dry spells when we don’t turn to God’s Word for our daily sustenance and we thirst for the want of abiding in Him deeply. I was in one of those seasons when I wrote this song.
Verse 1 It’s been days since I turned to where the answers are
It’s been weeks since I stopped … and asked for direction
Seems like God and my friends are very far away
I’m feeling lost, And lonely
And in need of connection
It’s almost like I’ve been…
CHORUS WALKING WITH MY EYES CLOSED Unsure of where I’m going
WALKING WITH MY EYES CLOSED Feeling without knowing
God gave me two eyes to see, If I don’t use them the blame’s on me
He put His Word in my hand and in my heart, So I don’t have to be in the dark
WALKING WITH MY EYES CLOSED
Verse 2 My footprints make circles in the sand
I might as well be standing still
I’m ending up where I don’t belong, again
Grasping at the air, In need of reflection
Lost my sense of where I am, I’ve been …
I’m feeling lost , And lonely
And in need of connection
Lost my sense of where I am
Walk in the Light, beloved. Keep your eyes open, and your feet straight.
Jennifer shared something with me that she just read which I found really motivating and I want to share it with you.
Are you familiar with the meaning of the Chinese characters that make up the element word for “crisis”? The first character can be translated as “danger”; the second, as “opportunity”. See the image above (source: https://secure.mycart.net/client_images/catalog22647/pages/E868A.htm). Do you see your crises as dangerous opportunities? Maybe you should, as more than one American president has suggested pointing to this Asian insight in a motivational speech.
Now, an important disclaimer should be shared. Wikipedia notes: The Chinese word for “crisis” (simplified Chinese: 危机; traditional Chinese: 危機; pinyin: wēijī) is frequently invoked in Western motivational speaking because the word is composed of two sino-characters that can represent “danger” and “opportunity”. However this analysis is fallacious because the character pronounced jī (simplified Chinese: 机;traditional Chinese: 機) has other meanings besides “opportunity” … Chinese philologistVictor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania states the popular interpretation of wēijī as “danger” plus “opportunity” is a “widespread public misperception” in the English-speaking world. While wēi (危) does mean “dangerous” or “precarious”, the element jī (机) is highly polysemous. The basic theme common to its meanings is something like “critical point”. “Opportunity” in Chinese is instead a compound noun that contains jī, jīhuì (机会, literally “meeting a critical point”).
OK, so let’s understand “crisis” as as a “Critical Point”. Even better, really. Our most critical points in life surely are not safe, but they also truly can be major moments of revelation, release, reformation, and revival.
May we not uncover our crises and find the beginning of opportunities lying before our feet?
Maybe we should thus speak of a life crisis (midlife or otherwise) as a “Crossroads”. Choosing Christ’s abundant life along His narrow way at every juncture will always reveal later that it was a new opportunity for growth in grace and sanctification (the pain bringing the gain). So long as we face our crises taking steps of faith directed by God’s Word, He will always draw us closer to His wonderful Self through afflictions’ detours (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75). Robert Frosts’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, comes to mind considering where our crises should lead us:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
At what critical crossroad point are you standing? We don’t choose the crossroads we face, but we do choose which path to take (the Lord helping us). What opportunity is clothed in your crisis presently? Are you looking for it? Are you following its lead? And what are you going to do with it? Your crisis doesn’t have to be your breaking point. May it become your new starting point.
I write this devotion while sitting with Jennifer during her eighth chemotherapy treatment, at which time she shared what she read with me about these Chinese characters making up the word for “crisis” while receiving her IV drip (for three hours before then getting her pump that she wears for the next two days at home). This motivating concept she found was in a book handed to her today here, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, in which authors Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson describe the second Chinese character discussed as including the ideas of having an opportunity for change, nourishment, happiness, and community. But they also gave this qualification: a crisis is “… a chance–not a guarantee, mind you, but a chance–to embrace life even while in the throes of serious illness.”
How are you handling your current crisis? Are you using it as an opportunity for new direction? If so, good things will happen.
You know, the reason the volunteer (herself a cancer survivor) handed my wife this book is because she was curious about another book Jennifer was reading at the moment about healing through special nutrition. Jenn found this Chinese “proverb” in the making, if you will, by taking a look. And due to the book she had brought with her and was reading, we have gotten a high end juicer to maximize vegetable and fruit nutrients in a modest and modified supplemental application of what is known as the Gerson Therapy. To do so, we asked God to provide such a juicer used and much cheaper online, and He did almost immediately! Not only is using the juicer going to help Jennifer now and proactively later, it will help me lose weight and it will help our children learn superb nutrition while they’re young. As well, we found the machine we chose also makes incredible sorbet with frozen fruit (nothing added) — an absolutely delicious treat that gives us great fun!
By God’s grace, we are taking lemons and making lemonade. Or rather, by God’s power and guidance, and with the love and support of you His saints, we are taking a sour providence and turning it into its intended sweetness. What about you?
May you make the most of every difficult moment to witness for Jesus Christ, trusting that you will be able to say what Joseph said at the end of a long string of excruciating experiences: … God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20)
If I may get a little ahead of where we are in our Sabbath Class with Elder Huffmaster on John MacArthur’s book, Anxious for Nothing, two nuggets on getting through suffering patiently were really helpful for our family this week, which I want to encourage you to make frequent use of through your trials as they come.
First, in chapter 3, “Casting Your Cares on God”, he points out something really helpful with 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you:
“The word translated ‘casting’ was used to describe throwing something on something else, such as a blanket over a pack animal (e.g., Luke 19:35). Take all your anxiety–all the discontent, discouragement, despair, questioning, pain, and suffering that you’re going through–and toss it all onto God.” (60)
This insight has been extremely helpful for us. In particular, when we visualize taking a blanket off of ourselves and laying it on Jesus’ back, Who only truly can bare it for us. I don’t mean to sound mechanical or magical, but I suppose it is mystical–or rather, Spiritual with a capital “S”. The Holy Spirit really does remove the feeling of pressure when we visualize taking our burden off of us and putting it onto Jesus (and praying to that effect that it would be so). Now, we have to do this on more than one occasion, but it helps a lot. It will help you when you need help giving over your burdens to Jesus so that you can take His upon you, which is light.
Second, in chapter 4, “Living a Life of Faith and Trust”, as we ask for our daily bread, let’s look at every day as a victory at the end of the day:
“What awaits us at the finish line of the race of faith? Joy and triumph. Jesus endured the cross ‘for the joy set before Him’ (Heb. 12:2). Any athlete will tell you that there’s nothing equal to the thrill of winning. It isn’t the medal or the trophy or anything else–it’s just the winning, the exhilaration of victory … Ultimately, our real joy and reward as believers is to be in heaven with Christ, but here and now we can experience a great sense of triumph when we have victory over temptation.” (70)
It has been really helpful to recognize (with Romans 8 becoming even more real for us) that every day is a victory, and can be celebrated as such. Every day we get through our trials and do not curse God but praise Him, and do not stay huddled in a corner but hug each other and get out there and take in life, every day we fight the temptation of fear and worry and choose to keep our eyes on Jesus asking for more faith, we are more than conquerors. We win. Every day is a battle of the cosmic war of Gen. 3:15, and every day we do not give in, we win. Every day we fight the good fight, albeit with battle scars to show for it, we can thank God for the thrill of not being beaten by Satan; yes, by His glorious grace, but not excluding our willingness to duke it out as good soldiers. This effort again is not magical or mechanical — it is just real and Scriptural and blessed by the Spirit.
These lessons have been very meaningful for us this week, and I trust they will prove meaningful for you, beloved, as you cast your cares upon Jesus and keep your eyes on Him and look forward to putting another notch in the “W” column before you go to bed. It’s the best way to live, whatever the Lord’s hand lays upon us to humble us before He exalts us. It gives real comfort and real joy that Satan can never steal. One day at a time.
Tomorrow we will be reminded that, “hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam 7:12) and that this is always the case. God has “proved” the Israelites again and again to have them trained and ready for his service and their survival. The names of Moses’ sons is important to see our sojourning for Christ is also our sustenance in Christ. His first son’s name means “Sojourner”, and his second son’s name means, “God is my help.” And God shows Moses again that He is his help through the earthly sojourn by providing him new helpers (elders) to rule over God’s people before He gives them His rules.
God is always thinking ahead for us. And He is always preparing us. And He is always preparing the way for us. He is our helper!
Debbie Raglin shared this devotion from her copy of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening that reminds us of how thankful we should be for God’s help, and how we should continue to “Ask for help”:
Believer, look back through all thine experience, and think of the way whereby the Lord thy God has led thee in the wilderness, and how He hath fed and clothed thee every day – how He hath borne with thine ill manners – how He hath put up with all thy murmurings, and all thy longings after the flesh-pots of Egypt-how He has opened the rock to supply thee, and fed thee with manna that came down from heaven. Think of how His grace has been sufficient for thee in all thy troubles-how His blood has been a pardon to thee in all thy sins-how His rod and His staff have comforted thee. When thou hadst thus looked back upon the love of the Lord, then let faith survey His love in the future, for remember that Christ’s covenant and blood have something more in them than the past.He who has loved thee and pardoned thee, shall never cease to love and pardon. He is Alpha, and He shall be Omega also: He is first, and He shall be last. Therefore, bethink thee, when thou shalt pass through the valley of the shadow of death, thou needest fear no evil, for He is with thee. When thou shalt stand in the cold floods of Jordan, thou needest not fear, for death cannot separate thee from His love; and when thou shalt come into the mysteries of eternity thou needest not tremble. ‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ [Romans 8:38, 39]. Now, soul, is not thy love refreshed? Does not this make thee love Jesus? Doth not a flight through illimitable plains of the ether of love inflame thy heart and compel thee to delight thyself in the Lord thy God? Surely as we meditate on ‘the love of the Lord’, our hearts burn within us, and we long to love Him more.
Beloved, in God’s providence, this was on the morning of February 4 in Spurgeon’s devotional, on Hosea 3:1, entitled “The love of the Lord.” That was last week, the week Debbie’s dear husband, Deacon Bruce Raglin, went into the hospital with what turned out to be a heart attack. She gave it to me to borrow while showing it to me in the hospital, marveling over God’s providential care. Not only was the text perfectly timed within our morning sermons through Exodus, but also for their family during their time of need to trust God had prepared them and would help them. And Jesus did help them; how grateful we are to already have had Bruce back with us for our Thursday night event! Just as we will see he is preparing Moses and the Church for the next step of their journey again, God provides in advance the help they will need. And He shows again He is ultimately their help.
So God is our Ebeneezer, for hitherto hath the Lord helped us. So we can sing in our Psalm of the month:
When I do thee upon my bed remember with delight,
And when on thee I meditate in watches of the night.
In shadow of thy wings I’ll joy; for thou mine help hast been.
My soul thee follows hard; and me thy right hand doth sustain.
First, the story of Zion Isaiah Blick. He was born this January, and he died this January. Zion’s parents knew at 20 weeks that he would be born with a rare disease likely to quickly prove fatal post natal. Click here to view the USA Today video about it, and click here to see their family documentary celebrating little Zion’s ten days of life. While I’m sure this Christian family (the father, a pastor) has and will shed many tears of sorrow, they admirably chose to celebrate Zion’s life with this Scripture as their standard bearer:
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. (Psalm 50:2)
What a beautiful testimony to us as we consider our covenant children in Sabbath Class tomorrow on baptism (Westminster Confession, Chapter 28). And what a glorious witness to not murmur against the Messiah, but praise Him in and with everything we receive from His sovereign hand. [Warning, I wept deeply after watching these, and expect you might too, but it was a blessing].
Second, the story of one of our nation’s brave servants, Marine Corporal Tony Porta. His bravery is not only seen in how he faced the battlefield overseas, but even more for how he courageously faces his new battles on the home front. Serving our nation, Mr. Porta was severely burned (over 35 percent of his body, including severe disfiguring of his face), and lost his right arm and the fingers on his left hand. He has endured 125 reconstructive surgeries.
With that incredible suffering in mind, consider that Mr. Porta spoke of joining the Marine Corps like this: “It was the best decision of my life.” He never complained, and he spoke with honor of his service and happiness for his wife, his son (named after two men who died in the same attack during which he was injured), and a new “smart home” being provided for him. I was struck by his lack of murmuring and inspired by his gratitude for and commitment to living. Click here to watch the interview with this hero.
Brethren, tomorrow we will see the Lord leads the Church from rest with water to war with the Amalekites. Difficult providences are a part of life, and no less when we walk with the Angel of God Who is a man of war. We will rest in the Promised Land. For now, we must be faithful warriors, trusting that as we look up to Jehovahnissi (Ex. 17:15), “The Lord My Banner”, we can know that while we are yet on the battlefield, we are winning and we will rest in heaven. March forward, brethren. And let the Sabbath bless you with the reminder of your final rest when this wicked world is all one day behind us (Hebrews 4:9).
We will see this Lord’s Day that the Angel of God (the preincarnate Jesus Christ) leads Israel into the wilderness. Previously, we saw He led the Church to the edge of the wilderness, and then to the edge of the Sea, both places where much faith was needed. This time, Jesus lets His people get thirsty in the dessert so that they learn even more to only drink of Him. What we keep learning is that Jesus tries our faith to increase it. He would have us be faithful servants: good soldiers.
We don’t like this testing, but it is what prepares us; or, as Exodus 15:25 says, testing is what God uses to prove (or train) us. King Jesus prepares us for survival through spiritual battle the same way boot camp does our military for earthly wars. In his sermon on Exodus 14:19-20, entitled “The Glory in the Rear”, Charles Spurgeon (a faithful soldier who mightily suffered before us) challenges us to accept Christ’s training and to quit ourselves like men:
I know some of you who are Christian people want to be always coddled and cuddled, like weakly babies. You pine for love-visits and delights, and promises sealed home to your heart. You would live on sweetmeats and be wheeled in a spiritual perambulator all the way to heaven, but your heavenly Father is not going to do anything of the sort. He will be with you, but he will try your manhood, and so develop it. I have seen children cosseted into the grave by their fond mother; and I suppose that a great many more will follow in the same way; but God never spoils his children. He educates them for nobler ends. He takes visible guides away from them that they may exercise faith in him. Why, Job would have been nobody if he had not lost everything …
Beloved, you and I lose the enjoyments of religion and the comforts of hope in order that we may walk by faith and not by sight, and may the more greatly glorify God …
I should think myself all the more called to a service if I found obstacles in my way. The course of true service never did run smooth …
Will you always be wanting to have your bread buttered for you on both sides? Must your road be gravelled, and smoothed with a garden roller? Are you a carpet knight, for whom there is to be no fighting? You are not worthy to be a soldier of Jesus Christ at all if you look for ease. Go home! I dare say, after all, it is the best thing you can do. True believers expect difficulties. It is ours to do what we are bidden to do, not to act according to fancied indications of providence. When the Lord said “Forward!” forward Israel must go, without a fiery cloudy pillar to cheer the way. Has not the Lord spoken? Who shall ask for plainer guidance? …
To you the daily supply of grace is more important than the supply of comfort, and this shall never fail you so long as you live.
Beloved, may we each … endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3)
You might remember my referencing a situation about the promotion of this movie in a sermon a short while ago as an illustration that the world is not neutral toward Christ and His Church. Facebook (and apparently from this interview, YouTube) took down and banned the movie trailer citing it as “abusive and unsafe”. The trailer was not down for long, thankfully. Also, I am thankful to learn from this interview that the ban was turned around by God to instead draw extra attention and attendance to the movie.
In the interview, Ms. Green said, “They did you the best favor.”
Mr. Cameron replied, “They really did. It was so ironic that the group that tried to stop Unstoppable really put the most fuel on the fire and got more people to buy tickets than anyone else.”
I couldn’t help but think of our recent study in Exodus, “God Turns Things Around”, as well as Romans 8:28: “And we know that God works all things together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
May this trailer testimony encourage you to remember that God is doing and will do the same for you in His beautiful, sovereign, providential timing (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
PS: You will see a caption and hear a comment in the interview that I know you will recognize I would give an important disclaimer about from Scripture (we have done so not so long ago in Sabbath class together: bad things happen to all people because all people are bad, according to Genesis 3:14-19 an John 3:36 — although of course the “why” is for our good for those who are saved). Nonetheless, we won’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The Scottish Puritan and Westminster Divine, Samuel Rutherford wrote: “I find it a sweet and rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christ’s joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with himself.”
There is a lovely exchange that you can have ongoing with Christ to have a sweet peace in this life. Of course, the foundation off this ongoing exchange is to have already made an eternal exchange.
So Jesus says in Revelation 3:18: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
He is reflecting toward Himself what was prophesied in Isaiah 55:1: Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
I trust that by God’s grace, you have already made that exchange, because you understood this: … we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Thus you have such peace when you remember Jesus made an exchange with you: Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
So Paul (the Apostle) and Paul (our elder teaching in our Sabbath class) can say to you: Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Samuel Rutherford knew a lot about suffering. He lost his first wife to death, and he buried all his many children (to say nothing of all his losses in ministry). Yet he knew how to get through: “I find it a sweet and rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christ’s joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with himself.”
May your faith be able to say the same thing through our experiences, beloved. May you give up your pain, be thankful to know the fellowship of His sufferings, remember what He has done for you, and find peace with Him there.
Today, I was a little disappointed. I took a break from sermon preparation to inspect the several fruit trees in the manse’s backyard. I have been nursing several of them to health for the three years that we’ve been here, and keenly interested in their improvement and production. Many of you often hear about how the trees are bearing better leaves, blossoms, and fruit.
So many of you know that I have been eagerly awaiting the harvest of our peach tree. We nearly cut it down last year because it was such a drag: nearly no leaves, never any fruit, and lots of ugly fungus. Due to time, we didn’t get around to uprooting it, so we applied more fungus killer and cut some more branches down to give it another try this year. The result: more leaves with no fungal infections, the bark was much more healthy, and it was the first time we had gorgeous pink blossoms in the spring! And then, came peach buds!
Well, many of you know we’ve been down to one peach for a while as things matured. I think the tree needs more time getting healthy, and more water. But that one peach has been my pride and joy. It’s my other “baby” I show off to everyone who visits (thanks to those of you who humor me with good humor). The peach has looked so great! It was going to make it!
Today, that peach was suspiciously loose. As I gingerly moved it, it nearly fell off due to the hole on the top just under its stem, where some ants were crawling around. The inside of the pit had been cracked open a bit. So I nearly chucked it. But as some of you know, we have been planning to have a peach party of sorts for a while now. And so, thinking of our Bible verse for tomorrow evening’s sermon, I cleaned it up and sliced it open. It was fine! So as we planned, the family sat around the table as I sliced it into thin sections, we thanked God for our one peach, and we truly enjoyed it together!. The fuzzy feel, fruity aroma, and juicy, tasty fiber was all worth the wait. We didn’t just enjoy the peach, we enjoyed each other and we enjoyed God and we enjoyed life. (See pictures below if you’re interested to see our lone peach and our first of what we hope to be annual peach parties!).
And guess what we immediately found ourselves talking about as we wiped our faces and fingers of peach juice? How we are going to get right back to taking care of that peach tree so it produces even more next time! Its younger neighbor, our orange tree, nearly didn’t make it after all. No oranges two years ago. Some blossoms and developing buds that all fell off early on last year. But this year, we’ve got 10-12 oranges maturing — Lord willing, they will certainly make it. So this one peach has us now eager to bring more life into that peach tree and see if we can’t produce a similar crop to the orange tree next year. If so, you may be enjoying a peach pie in the fellowship hour next August!
My point is, the potential for enjoying life had us not give in to a dismal dismissal of our peach party. And our happiness with having preserved a little life made us eager to produce more life. Here’s the verse that motivated me to give the poor peach a try before playing hoops with it and my garbage can:
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. (Proverb 17:22)
Beloved, may you make merry to bring back peaches into the parched and sickly areas of your life — maybe just one this year, but something that can lead to producing many more next season! A merry heart simply can do that kind of good when applied to all of life.
Van Leuven Family Album: Peach Party, August 17, 2013:
Mindful of the recent sermon, “Be Prepared”, Jennifer and I have been reading through a book we’ve been meaning to for some time, written by a lady we are acquainted with in the RPCNA. Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith (a best seller here), is a tremendously thought-invoking and life-inspiring read. She provides lots of vulnerable insights for personal reflection and sanctification. Here are a few nuggets we’ve been meditating on that I’d like to share with you:
“A life outside of Christ is both hard and frightening; a life in Christ has hard edges and dark valleys, but it is purposeful even when painful.”
“I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.”
“I’ve discovered that the Lord doesn’t change my feelings until I obey him.”
“Faith that endures is heroic, not sentimental.”
“How did the Lord heal me? The way that he always heals: the word of God got to be bigger inside me than I.”
“I learned that sin roots not in outward behaviors, but in patterns of thinking.”
“By wallowing in pity, I was holding myself back from going boldly to the throne of grace.”
“As Pastor Ken once said to me, ‘You can’t steer a parked car. If you want to turn your life around, you’ve got to get moving!'”
” … Elder and friend Bob Rice said, ‘Rosaria, never doubt in the darkness what God has promised in the light.'”
Dr. Butterfield’s story is a remarkable one. She had to give up everything, and as a prominent public figure, her prominent “coming out” speech was amazing. So too was what she went through as a disciple of Christ in things that followed to test her faith and refine her as a Christian. The above quotes she shared were ones she learned along her journey of growth in grace and holiness.
One comment Dr. Butterfield made particularly stood out to me: “Whatever God’s providence for me it was his to lay out and mine to obey. No longer did I have to invent myself.” It makes me think of the Psalm we’ll worship the Lord together with tomorrow morning in light of the sermon title, “God never lets you go”:
O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:1-10)
Praise God for His gracious hand that guides us in life closer and closer to Himself, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! He gives us our only real and meaningful identity in Christ and His Church.
“Many basketball coaches put almost as much emphasis on rebounding as they do on shooting. Great players always chase down rebounds at both ends of the court. They pick up on the angle of the missed shot and position themselves to be in the right spot when the ball comes down off the rim. In many cases, after recovering the ball, they score a basket and get fouled in the process. Any coach will tell you good rebounding will keep his team in the game … Never give up. When you miss, rebound!”
In this light, he shares the following verse: “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” (Proverb 24:16)
The person who keeps trying is the one who is just. The person who gives up is the one who is wicked.
Keep shooting, saints. As it has been said, “Shoot for the stars, and you may just hit the moon.” And don’t forget to work with the team all around you. You’re not alone. Keep rebounding. For when you do make those baskets, you’ll be glad you didn’t lay on the court with the squeaks of everyone else’s sneakers moving all around your head. And you’ll get better at your aim every time you get back on your feet, adjust, and take another shot. And God will glorify Himself in you:
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.” (Psa 34:19)
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24)
“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me.” (Micah 7:8)
So much of life is learning to rebound, isn’t it? And being quicker about it. Not staring at the ball bouncing away from you, but running after it and grabbing it again, and taking your next shot. So, what will be your next move on the court of life?
I have been blessed to meditate on Elder Huffmaster’s sermon, “You Can Be Perfect” in relation to Psalm 18:28-37 that we sang before he preached on Lord’s Day, December 16. The sermon pointed out from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that the Word of God (through doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness) makes us perfectly adequate to serve Him in the abundant life and victory of Jesus Christ. So we truly can say and experience, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
The Psalm was selected in light of the sermon because of this verse: it is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. (Psalm 18:32)
God makes us able in Christ to do what He calls on us to do in Christ. Did you notice a familiar image that follows this verse to impress this quickening truth upon our souls?
He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places. (Psalm 18:33)
This likely reminds you of Habakkuk 3:19: The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places …
Think about what this use of simile is communicating figuratively about our ability to live for God because of our life in Christ. Ever see on a documentary how swift, agile, and strong are the feet of such animals as the Mountain Goat? It is amazing how they maneuver rocky cliffs with ease and strength. Their feet and legs are just built to be able to handle their precarious habitations that keep them above the rest of the world.
So too has God made you able to walk with Him on a higher plain than this world on your way to the Promised Land. For He not only has equipped you to so walk for Him, He also set you on the perfect rock of Himself (Psalm 18:30, 31).
Don’t look down to the sinking sand of this world, beloved. Stay firmly planted on the Rock of Christ, for He will not let your foot slip off of Him (Psalm 121:3). Keep moving forward.