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Isaiah 9 - 12

Isaiah 9

For to Us a Child Is Born

Isaiah 9:1     But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2  The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3  You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4  For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6  For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7  Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Judgment on Arrogance and Oppression

8  The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
and it will fall on Israel;
9  and all the people will know,
Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10  “The bricks have fallen,
but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
but we will put cedars in their place.”
11  But the LORD raises the adversaries of Rezin against him,
and stirs up his enemies.
12  The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west
devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

13  The people did not turn to him who struck them,
nor inquire of the LORD of hosts.
14  So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail,
palm branch and reed in one day—
15  the elder and honored man is the head,
and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail;
16  for those who guide this people have been leading them astray,
and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.
17  Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men,
and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows;
for everyone is godless and an evildoer,
and every mouth speaks folly.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

18  For wickedness burns like a fire;
it consumes briers and thorns;
it kindles the thickets of the forest,
and they roll upward in a column of smoke.
19  Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts
the land is scorched,
and the people are like fuel for the fire;
no one spares another.
20  They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry,
and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied;
each devours the flesh of his own arm,
21  Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh;
together they are against Judah.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 10

Isaiah 10:1     Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
and the writers who keep writing oppression,
2  to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil,
and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
3  What will you do on the day of punishment,
in the ruin that will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help,
and where will you leave your wealth?
4  Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners
or fall among the slain.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

Judgment on Arrogant Assyria

5  Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger;
the staff in their hands is my fury!
6  Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7  But he does not so intend,
and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
and to cut off nations not a few;
8  for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
9  Is not Calno like Carchemish?
Is not Hamath like Arpad?
Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10  As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11  shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
as I have done to Samaria and her images?”

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14  My hand has found like a nest
the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
or opened the mouth or chirped.”

15  Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16  Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts
will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
like the burning of fire.
17  The light of Israel will become a fire,
and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
his thorns and briers in one day.
18  The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
the LORD will destroy, both soul and body,
and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19  The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
that a child can write them down.

The Remnant of Israel Will Return

20 In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. 23 For the Lord GOD of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth.

24 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD of hosts: “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. 25 For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. 26 And the LORD of hosts will wield against them a whip, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb. And his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. 27 And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of the fat.”

28  He has come to Aiath;
he has passed through Migron;
at Michmash he stores his baggage;
29  they have crossed over the pass;
at Geba they lodge for the night;
Ramah trembles;
Gibeah of Saul has fled.
30  Cry aloud, O daughter of Gallim!
Give attention, O Laishah!
O poor Anathoth!
31  Madmenah is in flight;
the inhabitants of Gebim flee for safety.
32  This very day he will halt at Nob;
he will shake his fist
at the mount of the daughter of Zion,
the hill of Jerusalem.

33  Behold, the Lord GOD of hosts
will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the great in height will be hewn down,
and the lofty will be brought low.
34  He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe,
and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.

Isaiah 11

The Righteous Reign of the Branch

Isaiah 11:1     There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2  And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3  And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4  but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5  Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

6  The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7  The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9  They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.

12  He will raise a signal for the nations
and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
13  The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
and those who harass Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
14  But they shall swoop down on the shoulder of the Philistines in the west,
and together they shall plunder the people of the east.
They shall put out their hand against Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites shall obey them.
15  And the LORD will utterly destroy
the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
and will wave his hand over the River
with his scorching breath,
and strike it into seven channels,
and he will lead people across in sandals.
16  And there will be a highway from Assyria
for the remnant that remains of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt.

Isaiah 12

The LORD Is My Strength and My Song

Isaiah 12:1     You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.

2  “Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the LORD,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.

5  “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
6  Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

ESV Study Bible

What I'm Reading

Confessions of a Bibliophile

By Keith Mathison 2/1/2011

     According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a bibliophile is “A lover of books; a book-fancier.” Although this is a helpful definition, I’m not entirely sure I want to refer to myself as a “fancier” of anything. I’m from Texas. We either like something or we don’t. We don’t “fancy” things. It’s…unnatural.

     However, I do love books, or perhaps, I should say more precisely, I love to read. Always have. When I was a child, I devoured books. Tom Sawyer, the Hardy Boys, anything I could find. When visiting relatives, I would read whatever they happened to have on the shelves, whether Reader’s Digest or Dr. Seuss. I enjoyed them all, but I was especially in love with offbeat stories.

     It was not only children’s fiction that interested me. My family owned an old set of the World Book Encyclopedia. I used to sit and read the articles in those volumes for hours on end. When I was maybe ten or eleven, I found an old copy of the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe. I don’t remember what the first story in the book was, but it was odd, and that appealed to me. Looking back now, as interesting as Poe may be to a person attracted to offbeat stories, I wouldn’t recommend reading his complete works straight through. Side effects may include nightmares.

     Sometimes I have read books for the wrong reasons. During my first semester of college, I ran across a three-volume work titled The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a harrowing, often firsthand account of the Soviet Union’s concentration camp system. When I took it to the counter to check it out, the librarian said to me in a rather obnoxious way that no one who started that book ever finished all three volumes, and then he informed me that I would never finish it either. I took that as a challenge and proceeded to plow through two thousand pages of dense narrative on a very unpleasant subject. Although I finished it simply to prove someone wrong, it turned out to be a great book.

     Our sovereign Father ultimately used my love of reading to bring me to faith and repentance. As a teenager, I was pathologically shy and withdrawn and depressed (perhaps another reason not to read the works of Poe at the age of ten). I was a complete nihilist without being aware that there was a term for my worldview. I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point during my last years of high school, an elderly gentleman from Gideons International was on campus handing out pocket size New Testaments. He gave me a red one. I put it in my backpack and later tossed it in my desk. A year or so later, when I had just about reached the end of my rope, I saw that little New Testament in my desk and decided to read it. I stayed up all night reading and re-reading it. That night I placed my faith in Jesus Christ.

     My love of reading did not change, but from this point forward, the content of my reading shifted. I read and re-read the Bible. I went to Christian bookstores and began reading Christian history and theology. For many years, I did not read fiction (unless it was assigned for a class) because I was so busy reading other things. Because I was not led to Christ by another Christian, I was on my own for a while and did end up reading a lot of Christian books that led me down some dead-end paths. God worked this for good too, however.

     Our God is a God who has revealed Himself in a book, in words. We learn about God and His will, therefore, by reading. We learn by reading and reflecting on His Word. We also learn by reading and thinking with the church. This means we read and reflect on the insights of our brethren, those who are still with us and those who have gone on before us. We may also learn by reading with discernment the works of those who have spent time “reading” God’s general revelation. This includes works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and literature.

     If I might offer a word of advice and encouragement to my fellow bibliophiles, it is this: As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (12:12). Millions of books have been published, and thousands more are published every year. We cannot read them all, so it is best to read the good ones. If you don’t know which books are the good ones, seek the advice of mature Christians. Find recommended reading lists by churches and ministries you trust.

     Finally, while we read to learn about our God and His works of creation and redemption, we must not allow a love of reading to supplant our love for Christ. If we do, our books, even our Christian books, become nothing more than idols. All the reading in the world, if it does not ultimately promote our love of Christ and our brethren, is nothing but futility.

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Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.

Keith Mathison Books:

Vehicles for Giving the Self: An Interview with Michael Card

By Michael Card 2/1/2011

     Tabletalk: Please tell us a little about the sort of ministry you are involved in these days.

     Michael Card: The ministry I am involved with these days is fundamentally the same one that’s been going on for thirty years: trying to facilitate biblical understanding through any means available to me. In the past this has been primarily through music, but increasingly I have more opportunities to simply teach, often in connection to concerts.

     TT: What project(s) are you working on currently?

     MC: I am currently working on volume 2 of a series on the Gospels called “The Biblical Imagination Series.” The project derives its direction and method from William Lane’s statement: “We must engage with Scripture at the level of the imagination.” In my own small way I am trying to advance and develop that idea by working through the gospels.

     TT: What are your reasons for composing, recording, and performing music?

     MC: I am involved in creating music because I sense a call on my life to do this. My community, a small bi-racial church, originally confirmed the call while I was attending the University of Western Kentucky. Ever since, brothers and sisters who are close have encouraged me. I suppose I will continue in this ministry until they advise me to do something else. I have always felt the community is vital in determining our specific calls.

     TT: If someone asks you what you do for a living, how do you respond?

     MC: When someone asks what I do for a living, I generally respond that I write. That pretty well covers the full range of what I do.

     TT: Do you listen to music that has been written by professed unbelievers? Why or why not?

     MC: I listen to all kinds of music. I don’t know for certain if any of my favorite musicians are “professed” unbelievers, but many of them certainly are not followers of Jesus. If you take the notion of general revelation seriously, that is that everyone possesses the image of God to some degree — and creativity is a part of that image-bearing — then people who do not know Him yet still bear His image can produce art that is meaningful as well. The creative rain falls on the just and the unjust.

     TT: As you consider the music being written and performed today within the church, what are you most thankful for and what are you most concerned about?

     MC: I am most thankful today when I see young writers coming on the scene whose songs clearly demonstrate a devotion to Christ and His Word. It is deeply encouraging to me to sense that His faithfulness is seen through all generations.

     TT: What word of counsel would you like to offer those involved in the ministry of writing, recording, or performing music and to those who are church musicians?

     MC: If I had a word of encouragement for anyone coming into music ministry, I would say invest yourself in community. Writing and performing music can be an isolating experience and we were meant to create in the context of community. This does not mean exclusively a community of creative or musical people. I especially mean a wider community of people who are not like you, people who live at the level of poverty, people who have a different culture, who are a different color.

     TT: Although there are many, is there one lesson the Lord has taught you that you would care to share with us?

     MC: One of the most important lessons the Lord has taught me is that you are not your gift. That is, you are not defined by what you do or create. Jesus is a wonderful example of this. He would not allow the crowd to define Him by His considerable gifts, even though they tried to do so. Jesus always points away from Himself and His gifts and thereby wins praise for the Father. We are not our gifts. We are called to give more. Like Jesus, we are called to give ourselves. That is the real purpose behind our gifts; they are vehicles for giving the self.

     TT: What has the Lord been teaching you recently (and how has that shaped your recent musical endeavors)?

     MC: I am currently working my way through the Gospels. I am seeking to develop a feeling for the flow of the ministry as it is portrayed in the various Gospels. In Mark I am seeing for the first time that at one point (around chapter 7) Jesus’ ministry gets somewhat out of control. Maybe this is not a new idea for some people, but I have never understood it this way. And this is new for me. His followers become almost a mob, reaching out for His gifts and not Him. All of His attempts to focus their attention on the gospel seem to fail. The idea of Jesus’ ministry “failing” in one aspect is new for me.

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     Michael Card, in a career that has spanned 25 years, has recorded more than 23 albums, authored or coauthored more than 19 books, hosted a radio program, and written for a wide range of magazines. He has penned such favorites as “El Shaddai,” “Love Crucified Arose,” and “Emmanuel,” and has sold more than 4 million albums and has written more than 19 #1 hits. His expressed vision is to edify the body of Christ around the world by sharing experiences and resources in the context of community in order to help facilitate the growth of smaller and more intimate communities within his audience’s own churches and neighborhoods.

Michael Card Books:

Rejoice with Trembling

By John Piper 2/1/2011

     “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Ps. 2:11–12)

     Serve the Lord with fear…

     This command does not cancel out Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Serving the Lord with fear and serving the Lord with gladness do not contradict each other. The next phrase from this selection will make that plain (“rejoice with trembling”). There is real fear and real joy. The reason there is real fear is that there is real danger. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Yes, the elect are safe in Christ. But examine yourself, Paul says, “to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Confidence in Christ is not careless. Our security is rooted in God’s daily keeping, not our past decisions. “[He] is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory” (Jude 1:24). Part of how He keeps us is by awakening the vigilance to rest daily in Christ and not in ourselves.

     …and rejoice with trembling.

     Fear does not rob us of our joy for two reasons. One is that it drives us to Christ, where there is safety. The other is that even when we get there the part of fear that Christ relieves is the hope-destroying part. But He leaves another part — the part we want to feel forever. There is an awe or trembling in the presence of grandeur that we want to feel as long as we are sure it will not destroy us. This trembling does not compete with joy; it is part of joy. People go to terrifying movies because they know the monster cannot get into the theater. They want to be scared as long as they are safe. For some reason it feels good. This is an echo of the truth that they were made for God. There is something profoundly satisfying about being “frightened” when we cannot be hurt. It is the best when the trembling comes from the grandeur of holiness.

     Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way…

     God is jealous for His Son. “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14). His anger is kindled when the affection designed for Him is given to another. Of course, there is a Judas kiss, but that is not what He has in mind here. The kiss here is the kiss of adoration and submission — perhaps a kiss on the feet as we bow before Him. There is no playing games with God. If we love each other more, we will perish. He will be our highest treasure, or He will be our enemy. The safest place in the universe is at the feet of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we choose to turn from Him for another treasure, His wrath will be against us.

     …for his wrath is quickly kindled.

     The word quickly may not be the best here. The word can mean quickly in the sense of suddenly. Repeatedly in the Bible, God is said to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Not “quick to anger” but “slow to anger.” Therefore, I am inclined to think Psalm 2:12 means “His wrath can break out suddenly.” In other words, don’t trifle with Him in His patience, because suddenly it may run out and you will be overtaken in wrath. If you go on kissing His creation and not His Son (Rom. 1:25), suddenly you will find the fangs of a serpent in your lip. Don’t presume upon the patience of God (Rom. 2:4).

     Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

     The only safe place from the wrath of God is in God. Everywhere outside of His care is dangerous. He is the only hiding place from His own wrath. If you see Him as frightening and try to run away and hide, you will not find a place to hide. There is none. Outside of God’s care there is only wrath. But there is a refuge from the wrath of God, namely, God. The safest place from the wrath of God — the only safe place — is God. Come to God. Take refuge in God. Hide in the shadow of His wings. This is where we live and serve with joyful trembling. It is terrible and it is wonderful. It is like the eye of a hurricane — terror all around, and totally beautiful and calm. Here there is sweet fellowship. Here is quiet, loving communion. Here we speak to Him as to a friend. Here He ministers to our deepest needs. He wants you to come.

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      (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

     John Piper Books |  Go to Books Page

Does the Church Know Her Commission?

By Denny Burk 2/1/2011

     Have you ever wished you could have a do-over? Have you ever looked back on a situation in which you know that you really botched the job and you just wish you could have another crack at it? That is the way I often feel when I reflect back on some of my less-than-fruitful efforts at evangelism when I was in college. Back then, I was (to say the least) a little wet behind the ears in terms of my theological convictions. I had a basic understanding of Christ’s substitutionary atonement but little appreciation for how His lordship should inform evangelistic appeals. Anyone watching my approach to evangelism would have been well within his rights to label me an antinomian. Unfortunately, I simply did not know any better. So when I had the opportunity to share the gospel with my frat brother Mark, I really botched it.

     I was a Christian, and Mark knew it. Mark was not a Christian, and he knew that as well. Nevertheless, Mark had a kind of respect for me and my faith, and was often curiously probing about spiritual things. I thought he was ripe for the picking. I can remember the night that I had my opportunity to share the gospel with him and to tell him that he needed to believe the gospel and trust Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. Mark responded to my appeals with apparent ambivalence. But after a bit of conversation, it became clear that he was not interested in trusting Christ. When I asked him why, he simply responded that he did not want to make that kind of commitment of his life to Christ. He was very happy with his life, and he did not want to muck it up with a new obligation to follow Jesus.

     Now I was curious. Here was a guy who had no intellectual objections to the facts of the gospel — Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection. He just did not want to give his life to Christ. How could this be? I did not want his lack of enthusiasm about following Christ to keep him out of heaven, so I counseled him as any unwitting antinomian would. In so many words I told him, “Don’t worry about following Christ as Lord. Just repeat this sinner’s prayer after me, and you can be saved. Perhaps sometime later, God can help you to see Jesus as your Lord.” Mark did not budge. My counsel did not ring true to him, as he sensed that there had to be more to being a Christian than what I was selling. He was right.

     In the years subsequent to my conversation with Mark, God worked a Copernican revolution in my own theological outlook. I came to see the solas of the Reformation as more faithfully capturing what the Bible says about salvation. I repented of my antinomian darkness and came to see that I had evangelism all wrong. My antinomian error had blinded me to the particulars of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to obey all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20, my translation). I thought I knew the Great Commission, but I really didn’t. I had it all wrong.

(Mt 28:19–20) 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   ESV

     Often when I hear Christians speak about the Great Commission, I wonder whether they are making the same mistake I made. Even those who do not embrace an antinomian point of view (as I once did) often speak as if the Great Commission is merely about scoring converts — getting people to make a profession of faith in Christ. Of course, the Great Commission certainly calls Christians to make converts. Biblically speaking, however, there is much more to it than that. At the heart of the commission is the imperative to “make disciples.”

     What does it mean to make a disciple? Matthew’s gospel is filled with Jesus’ teaching as to what a disciple is, but probably the seminal text is from Matthew 16. Jesus defines a disciple in no uncertain terms: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (16:24–25). Jesus calls His disciples to His cross — not a metaphorical cross, but a real one. That means that Jesus calls His disciples to be willing to follow Him to the death.

     The implication of this truth for our understanding of the Great Commission is massive. He summons us to invite the nations to treasure Christ in such a way that even if they lose everything — even their lives — it is okay so long as they have Him (13:44). That is why making disciples involves not just the entry-level rite of baptism but also the obligation of “teaching them to obey all that I commanded you.” Where this framework is missing, so is the Great Commission.

     Does the church understand this as her commission from Christ? I certainly did not as a college student, but the church of the Lord Jesus Christ must do better than that. The Great Commission excludes the easybelievism and pseudo-gospels of pop spirituality precisely because it commands repentance from sin and faith in Christ crucified and raised for sinners. This is the message the church has been commissioned to preach, and it is the message that the world desperately needs to hear.

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     Dr. Denny Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College and associate pastor of Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

Denny Burk Books:

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     There are three kinds of civil government; namely, Monarchy, which is the domination of one only, whether he be called King or Duke, or otherwise; Aristocracy, which is a government composed of the chiefs and people of note; and Democracy, which is a popular government, in which each of the people has power.


1. The true wisdom of man consists in the knowledge of God the Creator and Redeemer.

2. This knowledge is naturally implanted in us, and the end of it ought to be the worship of God rightly performed, or reverence for the Deity accompanied by fear and love.

3. But this seed is corrupted by ignorance, whence arises superstitious worship; and by wickedness, whence arise slavish dread and hatred of the Deity.

4. It is also from another source that it is derived namely, from the structure of the whole world, and from the Holy Scriptures.

5. This structure teaches us what is the goodness, power, justice, and wisdom of God in creating all things in heaven and earth, and in preserving them by ordinary and extraordinary government, by which his Providence is more clearly made known. It teaches also what are our wants, that we may learn to place our confidence in the goodness, power, and wisdom of God, to obey his commandments, to flee to him in adversity, and to offer thanksgiving to him for the gifts which we enjoy.

6. By the Holy Scriptures, also, God the Creator is known. We ought to consider what these Scriptures are; that they are true, and have proceeded from the Spirit of God; which is proved by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, by the efficacy and antiquity of the Scriptures, by the certainty of the Prophecies, by the miraculous preservation of the Law, by the calling and writings of the Apostles, by the consent of the Church, and by the steadfastness of the martyrs, whence it is evident that all the principles of piety are overthrown by those fanatics who, laying aside the Scripture, fly to revelations.

7. Next, what they teach; or, what is the nature of God in himself, and in the creation and government of all things.

8. The nature of God in himself is infinite, invisible, eternal, almighty; whence it follows that they are mistaken who ascribe to God a visible form. In his one essence there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

9. In the creation of all things there are chiefly considered, 1. Heavenly and spiritual substances, that is, angels, of which some are good and the protectors of the godly, while others are bad, not by creation, but by corruption; 2. Earthly substances, and particularly man, whose perfection is displayed in soul and in body.

10. In the government of all things the nature of God is manifested. Now his government is, in one respect, universal, by which he directs all the creatures according to the properties which he bestowed on each when he created them.

11. In another respect, it is special; which appears in regard to contingent events, so that if any person is visited either by adversity or by any prosperous result, he ought to ascribe it wholly to God; and with respect to those things which act according to a fixed law of nature, though their peculiar properties were naturally bestowed on them, still they exert their power only so far as they are directed by the immediate hand of God.

12. It is viewed also with respect to time past and future. Past, that we may learn that all things happen by the appointment of God, who acts either by means, or without means, or contrary to means; so that everything which happens yields good to the godly and evil to the wicked. Future, to which belong human deliberations, and which shows that we ought to employ lawful means; since that Providence on which we rely furnishes its own means.

13. Lastly, by attending to the advantage which the godly derive from it. For we know certainly, 1. That God takes care of the whole human race, but especially of his Church. 2. That God governs all things by his will, and regulates them by his wisdom. 3. That he has most abundant power of doing good; for in his hand are heaven and earth, all creatures are subject to his sway, the godly rest on his protection, and the power of hell is restrained by his authority. That nothing happens by chance, though the causes may be concealed, but by the will of God; by his secret will which we are unable to explore, but adore with reverence, and by his will which is conveyed to us in the Law and in the Gospel.


     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain

     Institutes of the Christian Religion

Why The Gospels Are Embarrassing

By Wesley Huff 2/11/2017

     You may have never thought about it before, but if you have ever read the biblical Gospels, they're actually quite embarrassing. Not that the gospel itself is embarrassing, but that the four biographies of Jesus' life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are embarrassing. But while that might sound a little controversial to the Christian ear, it's actually not. The fact that the four biblical Gospels are embarrassing, that is, their content would have made the early church a little uncomfortable, actually testifies to their reliability and authenticity.

     This is what is referred to as the criterion of embarrassment. In other words, this criterion is a measure that historians use to establish the truthfulness of written historical accounts.(1) It can all be boiled down to this one fact - generally, when people fabricate, exaggerate, or embellish stories they don't tend to incorporate facts that would make them look foolish or leave room for the loss of their credibility. The fact remains that on the whole, when people lie, they don't generally tell falsehoods that drag their character through the proverbial mud.

     This remains just as true in the 21st century as it did in the first century. The tendency in ancient writing was to smooth-over the not so pleasant details. It was common practice to omit, leave out, or generally swing the information in order to make the community of the author look a little more polished. Especially concerning material that would bring shame on the author or those associated with him/her. Ancient historians made their leaders (and the nations those leaders ruled) look as good as possible.

     It was common practice to display reminders of great victories. A good example of this is an object known as the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin (2254-2218 BC) The depiction of the battle is literally carved in stone, a relief made from pink limestone that sits six feet high. It depicts the King of the Akkadians, Naram-Sin Hardly, defeating the armies of the neighboring civilization of Lullubi (not to be confused with the civilization of Lullaby - all they did was sleep all day).(2) Very rarely, if ever, do we find any examples of great losses being recorded or written down by the losing party.

     It all comes down to the fact that more or less, people want to be perceived in the best possible light. We put our best quality traits on our resumes, try to encourage our ideal strengths, and so on. How much more would we expect this in the first century in the case of a fledgling faith like Christianity. (3) After Jesus' death the first Christians were desperate to get his message out to the world, why wouldn't we see records of the amazing, great, and wonderful things that he did (and has done). And it is not to say that we don't find those things in the Gospel records, however, we also find a good deal more. There are some rather embarrassing and hard to explain things recorded by the New Testament authors that if the story was fabricated, seem rather hard to explain.

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     Wesley Huff is a writer, thinker, speaker, and apologist with the University of Toronto's Power to Change Apologetics Team. He seeks to communicate the truth to others in a way that is clear and understandable. Causing believers to think deeply about the truth they possess, and thinkers to believe profoundly about the truth they so desperately need.

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 79

How Long, O LORD?
79 A Psalm Of Asaph.

8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!
10 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes!

11 Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!
12 Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors
the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!
13 But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

ESV Study Bible

By John Walvoord

Judgment on Idolaters

     Ezekiel 14:1–23. Those who practiced idolatry and then went to a prophet would be judged by the Lord (v.  1–5 ). God exhorted them, “Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v.  6 ).

     If an Israelite served idols and sought a prophet, God would destroy him and also the prophet if the prophet would not resist the enticement to utter a prophecy (vv.  7–11 ). God declared that His judgment on Israel could not be avoided even if Noah, Daniel, and Job would intercede (vv.  13–14 ). The reference to these historical characters is very significant. Noah and Job lived many years before Ezekiel, but Daniel was a contemporary. Though liberal scholars have attempted to destroy the historicity of Daniel, this reference is a significant confirmation that Daniel was in Babylon serving King Nebuchadnezzar during the time of the captivity. The arbitrary declaration of some scholars that this reference cannot be taken at face value is without justifiable reason. It would have been natural for Ezekiel to have heard of Daniel, an important Babylonian official.

     After God amplified His declaration that these three notable men could not save Israel, He declared that if wild beasts went through the land, even these men would not be able to save their own sons and daughters, that only they would be saved (vv.  15–16 ). He stated the same thing concerning the sword or plague passing through the land (vv.  17–20 ). The names of the three men were repeated (v.  20 ). Then God declared that judgment against Jerusalem would be terrible, including sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague (v.  21 ). There would be some survivors, but most of the people would be destroyed (v.  22 ). This was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity ( 2 Chron. 36:11–15 ).

Jerusalem as Useless as a Fruitless Vine

     Ezekiel 15:1–8. In the revelation given to Ezekiel, signs were used to indicate the coming disaster ( 12:1–20 ), then a series of five messages followed ( 12:21–14:23 ). This chapter is the first of three parables confirming the fact that Israel could not escape her coming judgment. By nature a vine is useful only if it is fruitful. As wood, it is useful for nothing (vv.  1–5 ). Because of this, God would cast the vine into the fire to be consumed and “will make the land desolate because they have been unfaithful” (v.  8 ). This was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity ( 2 Chron. 36:11–15 ).

Jerusalem as an Unfaithful Wife

     Ezekiel 16:1–63. Jerusalem was described as an unwanted baby cast out to die (vv.  1–6 ) but rescued by God. Eventually the baby became a beautiful woman. God said that He cared for her and dressed her in fine linen and beautiful jewelry. Her beauty was such that she became a queen (vv.  8–14 ).

     Having received all these favors, Jerusalem became a prostitute and used her jewelry to make idols. The food that God gave her was offered as incense to idols. The sons and the daughters who were born were sacrificed to idols (vv.  15–21 ).

     Because of these detestable things, God declared judgment on Jerusalem (vv.  22–29 ). Even the heathen nations of Babylon and Egypt were shocked at her adultery. Because of her continued brazen conduct, God would judge not only her but also those who committed adultery with her (vv.  30–38 ). Her lovers would destroy her shrines, strip her clothes and fine jewelry, and leave her naked (v.  39 ). “They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry” (vv.  40–42 ).

     God declared that Jerusalem had become like Israel’s mother, who was described here as a Hittite with her father an Amorite (v.  45 ). Her older sister was compared to Samaria and her younger sister to Sodom (v.  46 ). According to God, Jerusalem became more depraved than any other nation (vv.  47–52 ).

     God promised to restore Sodom and Samaria, but Jerusalem would be scorned by Edom and the Philistines (vv.  53–58 ). God declared, “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant’” (v.  59 ).

     God promised, however, to remember the everlasting covenant He made with Israel (v.  60 ). But as she received His grace, she would be ashamed of her conduct (vv.  61–63 ).

The Parable of the Two Eagles and the Vine

     Ezekiel 17:1–24. This third parable setting forth God’s judgment on Israel described a situation in Israel when Zedekiah was ruling (around 592–591 BC). God described a great eagle that cut off the top of a cedar and carried it to a distant land where it prospered with abundant water (vv.  1–5 ). It became a spreading vine (v.  6 ).

     God then described another eagle that attracted the vine to send out its roots and branches toward the second eagle. God declared that the vine would not prosper.

     Explaining the parable, God compared the first eagle to Babylon, which conquered Jerusalem in 605 BC and carried off many of its leaders and inhabitants in 597 BC. After this, Zedekiah was placed by Babylon over all that was left of Israel in the land. The second eagle described the enticement of Egypt, which caused Zedekiah to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar and rely on the armies of Egypt (vv.  9–15 ). Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah that it would result in disaster if he rebelled against Babylon ( Jer. 38:17–28 ). When Zedekiah tried to escape, he was caught by the Babylonians and had to watch as his sons and nobles were killed. Then Nebuchadnezzar blinded Zedekiah and took him to Babylon ( Jer. 52:10–11 ). This corresponded to the word of the Lord in  Ezekiel Ezek. 17:11–21 ).

     Following Zedekiah’s downfall in 586 BC, in fulfillment of this prophecy of  Jeremiah, God declared in  Ezekiel that He Himself would take a shoot from the top of the cedar, plant it on the mountains of Israel, and it would grow and prosper (vv.  22–24 ). Ezekiel, who had been carried off captive, probably in 597 BC, recorded this prophecy, which was fulfilled in the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Again and again in  Isaiah, Jeremiah, and  Ezekiel the literal fulfillment of prophecy was illustrated.

Judgment on Those Who Sin

     Ezekiel 18:1–32. God asked a question about their interpretation of the proverb, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (vv.  1–2 ). The point of this prophecy seems to be that the children of Israel were claiming that their punishment was because of their fathers’ sins, not their own. God declared by way of rebuttal, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son — both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die” (vv.  3–4 ). The proverb that God repeated was also quoted by Jeremiah ( Jer. 31:29–30 ). In the Ten Commandments the principle was indicated that punishment sometimes goes to the third and fourth generation (cf.  Ex. 20:5; 34:6–7; Deut. 5:9 ).

     In the present case, however, God declared that He was judging the children themselves for their sinfulness and urged them to repent to avoid His judgment ( Ezek. 18:3–4 ).

     God itemized the sins of the wicked (vv.  5–9 ) and declared that if a righteous man would not do these things, he would live (v.  9 ). By contrast, the wicked person who does these things would not live (vv.  10–13 ).

     If one was a son of such a wicked person, however, and would not follow in his wickedness, God declared, “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live” (v.  17 ). In the particular case of Israel, with whom God was dealing in judgment, a son would not inherit the sins of the father nor the righteousness of the father, but each would be judged on the basis of his own actions (vv.  18–23 ). God defended His actions as being just in contrast to the charge of some that He was unjust (vv.  25–29 ).

     The final appeal of the Lord was for Israel to “repent!” (v.  30 ). God declared, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (v.  32 ). This was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity ( 2 Chron. 36:11–15 ).


Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times

The Continual Burnt Offering (Luke 22:28-29)

By H.A. Ironside - 1941

July 30
Luke 22:28  “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom,   ESV

     To be selected by Christ as workers together with Him was a great honor, and the same privilege is ours today (2 Corinthians 6:1). He called, they obeyed, and millions have profited by their service. How different would have been their lives had they planned for themselves instead of heeding His voice! What makes the tragedy of Judas’ defection so awful is that he had all the privileges and opportunities of the rest and he threw them all away because of covetousness and worldly ambition.

     To do the will of God is to enjoy life at its very best. Jesus said, “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). The doing of that will meant the cross with all its agony and shame. But only so could He be perfected as Captain of Salvation (Hebrews 2:10). He endured it all for the joy set before Him, and now He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied (Hebrews 12:2; Isaiah 53:11). It is given to us not only to believe on Him, but to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29), and to serve with Him for the blessing of a lost world. Then, at His return we shall share His glory.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

John 5:30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Isaiah 53:11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,   ESV

And there with Thee we shall rehearse the story,
Thy faithful love in desert scenes below;
And walking with Thee in that cloudless glory,
To Thee our endless praise shall ceaseless flow.

Until that day, Lord Jesus, keep us faithful
To Thy blest Word and not deny Thy Name!
Oh, shield Thine own from every harm and evil,
Content to suffer loss and bear Thy shame!
--- J. W. H. Nichols

The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God

Isaiah 9:6 - Everlasting Father

By S. Michael Houdmann

     “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).

     In context, this verse is proclaiming the redemption of Israel and the activities, titles, and blessings of the Messiah who is to rule the earth and usher in a reign of blessing and peace that will have no end. One of His titles is “Everlasting Father.”

     The Hebrew phrase translated “Everlasting Father” could be translated literally “Father of Eternity.” For this reason, some have suggested that the title means that this coming Messiah is also the creator of everything: He is the father of time and eternity, the “architect of the ages.” While we know this to be true from the New Testament (John 1:1–3, Colossians 1:16–17), that is not the emphasis in Isaiah. In the Hebrew construction of the phrase, father is the primary noun, and everlasting (ESV, NIV, KJV) or eternal (NASB) is the term that describes His fatherhood. He is Father forever.

John 1:1–3 (ESV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Colossians 1:16–17 (ESV)
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

     The Hebrew word translated “everlasting” has the idea of “in perpetuity” or “without end.” Indeed, the next verse says of the Messiah, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). The emphasis is forward looking, so “everlasting” is probably a better translation than “eternal,” which not only indicates “without end” but also “without beginning.” (Again, from the New Testament we may argue that the Messiah is without beginning, but that is not the emphasis of this term in Isaiah.)

     So, as the Everlasting Father, the Messiah will be a father, and His fatherhood will be without end. Some have objected that this designation as father seems to confuse the roles within the Trinity, calling “Father” the one who is really “the Son.” Some in the Oneness movement use this verse as a proof text to show that Jesus really is the Father and that there is only a Unity, not a Trinity. In both cases, the interpreters are reading New Testament concerns back into the Old Testament. Neither Trinitarian nor anti-Trinitarian concerns are being discussed in Isaiah 9:6.

     Many rulers in ancient times were considered “father of the country.” Americans who read this term might immediately think of George Washington who is called “the father of his country.” It was Washington’s determination and leadership that led to victory in the Revolutionary War and his support of a strong national government that led (at least in part) to ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Without Washington, the United States might not exist today, or it might exist with a far different form of government. However, if some of the interpretations discussed so far are guilty of reading New Testament theological concerns into Isaiah in an anachronistic fashion, using George Washington as an interpretive clue to the meaning of the phrase is also anachronistic. The most appropriate analogy is far more universal.

     In ancient times, the “father of the nation” was viewed in much the same way as the father of a family. It was the father who was to protect and provide for his children. In the same way, this Child to be born will become a king who will be a father to the children of Israel—He will protect and provide for them. And His role as protector and provider will not be limited by aging or death. His role as father (protector and provider) will continue in perpetuity. Just how this will come about is not revealed in Isaiah’s prophecy. The full identity of the Messiah—that He is God in the flesh, the second Person of the Trinity who would protect and provide for His people by His death and resurrection on their behalf; and that Gentiles could also be grafted into the family of Israel—may be hinted at in Isaiah, but God’s people would have to wait almost 700 years to see the Messiah revealed in the “fullness of time” (see Galatians 4:4).

Galatians 4:4 (ESV)
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

     S. Michael Houdmann is the Founder, President, and CEO of Got Questions Ministries, the parent ministry for GotQuestions.org. We rarely receive questions about S. Michael Houdmann, and that is a good thing. He does not want GotQuestions.org to be about him. He does not want people to accept or reject the answers given at GotQuestions.org because of name recognition. Rather, his hope is that people will accept or reject GotQuestions.org answers because they have read them, compared them with the Word of God, and prayed about them – and determined them to be true and biblical.

The Church

By Robert Jeffress 2023

     Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”1 That same begrudging attitude seems to be the stance of many people toward the church. If they were to describe their relationship status with the church on social media, they would likely choose “It’s complicated.”

     On the one hand, if you’ve spent any quality time in a congregation with other believers, you probably can give a testimony about how God used the church to minister to you. Maybe you recall when someone in the church took an interest in your spiritual growth or led you to faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps a pastor or Sunday school teacher opened your eyes to a truth in Scripture you’d never seen before. Maybe church members supported you during a time of need or loss in your life. Or perhaps you can just look back week after week and thank God for the spiritual refreshment you received when you gathered to worship with other Christians.

     On the other hand, if you’ve spent any quality time in a congregation with other believers, you’ve likely witnessed your share of power struggles, petty disputes, hypocrisy, and other un-Christlike behavior. At some point, you may have looked around the congregation and realized you have little in common with your fellow worshipers. But the strangeness of the bedfellows is what makes the church so uniquely potent. There must be supernatural forces at work, because there’s no other explanation for why the church has thrived for two thousand years.

     To properly understand this eighth core belief of Christianity, we need to know why the church started, what it brings to our lives, and what our responsibilities are as members of Christ’s body.

     1 Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Hand,” in North of Boston (London: David Nutt, 1914), 3–10.

Discovering Our Roots

     Few things can trace their existence to a single moment in time. For example, the United States didn’t suddenly spring into being when the last Founding Father signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. Electricity didn’t announce its presence for the first time when lightning struck the key tied to Benjamin Franklin’s kite. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups weren’t born the instant one person accidentally dipped some peanut butter into someone else’s chocolate.

     One exception is the church, which can trace its existence to a single moment in time — a moment God made sure was recorded in detail. In Acts 2, Luke placed his readers in just the right place — a house in Jerusalem — at just the right moment to witness the birth of the church.

     According to Luke’s description, a noise that sounded like a violent wind filled the house. Tongues of fire appeared over the heads of everyone present. The Holy Spirit arrived, just as Jesus had promised in John 14. And with Him came a new institution, a new framework for continuing Christ’s work in the world. The Holy Spirit’s presence bound believers together in ways they had never experienced before.

     The church was born. And in its founding and early years, we see the purposes for which it was created and the roles God intends it to play in the lives of His people.

Training Ground

     The Holy Spirit uses the church as a conduit to pour His power into believers’ lives. That means  we cannot experience the Spirit’s full power in our lives without being connected to a local church.  Lord, you know this grieves me so much. I so much love your word, but it is so difficult to connest with your people. I am sure the fault is all mine, but I do not know how to correct it. After all, the church is the body of Christ, and each of us is a member of that body (1 Cor. 12:27).

     Without that connection to the church, we are like severed limbs. If you were to separate my hand from the rest of my body, that hand would quickly atrophy. The same thing happens spiritually when members of the body of Christ are separated from the church. Our relationship with the Lord withers. God created the church not just to carry out His purpose in the world but also to supply spiritual power to individual believers.

     As you read through Luke’s account of the birth of the church, you’ll discover that all 120 people present that day (Acts 1:15) suddenly gained the ability to communicate in a foreign language. This literal godsend proved to be extremely valuable, because these events took place during the Jewish festival of Pentecost, and hundreds of thousands of God-fearing Jews had made the annual journey to Jerusalem for the celebration. Many came from distant lands, where foreign languages were spoken.

     Obviously, this created a communication barrier for the believers gathered that day, who had the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection to share. God solved the problem by giving individual believers a special gift — the supernatural ability to speak in languages they had never spoken before.

     The Jewish celebrants who heard them were intrigued when they recognized their own languages being spoken so far from home. As they gathered to take in the spectacle, the apostle Peter seized the opportunity and delivered a powerful sermon. According to Acts 2:41, the result was that three thousand people gave their lives to Christ that day.

     A closer look at God’s strategy that day gives us a glimpse of His purpose for the church. He could have given the Jewish celebrants of Pentecost the miraculous ability to understand one person — Peter — and cut out over 99 percent of the middlemen. But that’s not His vision for the body of Christ. Instead, God gave each believer a specific gift to use — perhaps it was one language or dialect per person.

     That being the case, one believer on his or her own probably wouldn’t have made much of an impression. Someone suddenly speaking Phrygian in Jerusalem may have attracted a passing glance, but probably not much more than that. Instead, it was the chorus of languages and dialects, rising together from people who had no reason to be speaking them, that attracted people’s attention. It was the body of believers, working as one, that made a difference. That’s how God intends the church to work.

     There’s another important takeaway from this account. As far as we know, everyone who received the Holy Spirit’s gift that day used it — to great effect. But what if one person had resisted? What if a single believer had chosen not to use the gift, perhaps out of fear, shyness, laziness, or indifference?

     Percentage wise, the impact would have been negligible. One out of 120 still puts the participation rate well over 99 percent. Yet what if the believer who chose not to exercise the gift was the one person able to speak Parthian that day? An entire group of people would have been left wondering what all the fuss was about. The Parthian visitors would have shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Every believer’s gift mattered at Pentecost, just as every believer’s spiritual gift matters today.

     As we learned in our study of God the Holy Spirit, when we are saved, the Holy Spirit gives each of us a spiritual gift, which is both a desire and a unique power to be a part of God’s ministry. The church serves as a training ground for Christians in honing our spiritual gifts, discovering how we can apply them, and maximizing their impact. The church is where we find our place in the body of Christ and learn to work with our fellow body parts.

Shelter from the Storm

     My late mentor Howard Hendricks used to say, “The church is a lot like Noah’s ark — if it weren’t for the storm on the outside, you couldn’t stand the stench on the inside.” 2 Certainly, there are occasional odors that emanate from churches, as will happen whenever imperfect people gather. But there’s also a relentless storm beating against us — a storm that began at just about the same time the church did.

     Those early church members at Pentecost soon discovered that not everyone would respond to their message in the same way the masses did on that first day. Two powerful entities lined up against them, determined not only to prevent the spread of their message but also to punish anyone who dared to speak it.

     Jewish leaders recognized the threat that Christianity posed to their own religion. Every Jewish convert to Christianity was a direct loss for Judaism. At the same time, Roman authorities feared that the growth of Christianity might lead to political upheaval. So both factions committed to stamping out the Christian faith.

     History shows that Christian persecution intensified during the first century. Followers of Christ were hassled, arrested, tortured, and killed because of their faith. Alone, they were vulnerable. But together, they were a force to be reckoned with. The church provided a shelter from the storm of persecution. Believers found comfort, strength, encouragement, and motivation with other believers.

     The church still provides shelter today. The consequences we face for our faith may not be as intense as those the first-century believers faced, but they are just as real. And alone, we are still vulnerable. God has given us the church to surround and protect us from the forces that war against us.

     2 Howard Hendricks, as quoted in Robert Jeffress, “A Winning Church,” sermon, First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, August 14, 2011.

Launch Pad

     The church also functioned as a launch pad for ministry and evangelism. In Acts 11:22, Luke said, “The church at Jerusalem . . . sent Barnabas off to Antioch.” The congregation selected Barnabas to serve as a missionary. According to Acts 13:1–4, while believers in the church at Antioch were fasting and praying, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). In response, the church members fasted, prayed, and laid hands on Barnabas and Saul, and then they sent them on their way.

     Acts 18:5 suggests Paul was able to devote himself to full-time ministry after Silas brought him a substantial financial gift from the church in Philippi. In passages such as 2 Corinthians 11:9 and Philippians 4:15–16, Paul noted the importance of the Philippians’ financial support of his ministry.

     Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire — and beyond — thanks to the work of the church. And the spread continues today.

Unity in Diversity

     Perhaps even more impactful than its support of missions is the church’s unity in diversity. Paul said, “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). The members of the Corinthian church to whom Paul was writing were a divided bunch. They were divided over their favorite pastor. They were divided over political philosophies. They were divided over their beliefs about spiritual gifts.

     Yet note how Paul addressed the divisions in the church. He didn’t say, “I want you to strive for uniformity. I want you to talk alike, think alike, and believe alike in everything.” Paul didn’t call for that because God doesn’t call for the church to be uniform. He calls for us to be unified. He calls for us to have unity in diversity.

     If you’re a part of a church where everyone is in the same age group, is of the same race, is from the same economic background, drives the same cars, and dresses in the same clothes, guess what? You’re in a country club. God didn’t call us to be a country club; He called us to be a church. And that means people of different ages, of different backgrounds, from different walks of life, coming together to worship Jesus Christ. There’s a powerful witness in that coming together. The diversity of the church is one of the greatest testimonies to the might of God.

Robert Jeffress, What Every Christian Should Know: 10 Core Beliefs for Standing Strong in a Shifting World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2023)

  • OT Lit
    Poetic Literature 22
  • Solomon Consolidating
    Empire 23
  • OT Lit 24
    Wisdom Literature

#2    Dr. Elaine Phillips


#3    Dr. Elaine Phillips


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     7/1/2015    The Dawn of Reformation

     The brightest object in the sky, after the sun and moon, is the morning star. It appears about an hour before dawn. John Wycliffe (c. 1330-84) is often called the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” and for good reason, for his life shone brightly as a forerunner of the Reformation. Jan Hus (c. 1370-1415) worked by the light of this morning star, even as the greater light of the Reformation was about to dawn. Through Wycliffe, God brought light to people who were dwelling in darkness—one of whom was Hus. Hus boldly carried on the controversy that Wycliffe began, the controversy over the final authority of Scripture that would soon engulf the entire continent of Europe in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. In fact, Martin Luther (1483-1546), in his debate with Johann Eck, even declared, “I am a Hussite.”

     These men were by no means the source of light; they were tarnished mirrors who reflected the one source of light, the Light of the World—Jesus Christ. The living and active Word of God reveals this Light. In His sovereignty, God used these forerunners of the Reformation to direct His people back to His Word. Once Scripture was rediscovered, the light of God’s truth began to shine ever more brightly in the hearts of God’s people, which, in turn, led to the Reformation.

     Though Wycliffe died a natural death, his remains were later disinterred, burned, and scattered. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church burned Hus at the stake, even though he was promised safe conduct to and from his trial. It is said that he sang a hymn to Christ as the flames engulfed his body. His remains, like Wycliffe’s, were scattered. Nevertheless, the darkness could not dispel the Light of the World. This light, long obscured but still shining, soon dawned on Europe anew and subsequently throughout the rest of the world.

     In his life and death, Hus pointed not to himself, but to the Word of God as our only infallible authority for faith and life. God’s Word proclaims the light of the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. Hus’ message was simple: To know the truth, the church must go to the source of truth—sacred Scripture itself. The Reformers picked up the mantle of Wycliffe and Hus, crying ad fontes, “to the sources.” They implored the church to return to divine revelation, the original text of sacred Scripture by which the Holy Spirit brings life and liberty through the light of the gospel.

     As Christians, we know that there is but one true Source of light, and the Holy Spirit will continue to dispel the darkness in the hearts of God’s people through His Word. And one day, when Christ returns and consummates His kingdom, He will transform everything. As we live as Christians in the twenty-first century, we are called to live coram Deo, before the face of God, as we carry the same flaming torch that Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther carried as we boldly proclaim the Light of the World to a dark and dying world.

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     King Charles gave him a land grant in America in payment of a great debt owed to his father. He then invited all the persecuted peoples of Europe to join him in establishing a colony of religious toleration, as he himself had experienced imprisonment in the Tower of London for converting to the Quaker faith. Calling it a “holy experiment,” he admonished the settlers to work together, naming the first city Philadelphia, meaning “Brotherly Love.” It was there nearly a hundred years later that the Declaration and Constitution were written. He died this day, July 30, 1718. His name was William Penn.

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

When Jesus is the reason for worship,
then too much is not enough.
--- the Ramp

A man may well be condemned,
not for doing something,
but for doing nothing.
--- William Barclay

I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are very wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy burdened.”
--- St. Augustine

... from here, there and everywhere

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 19.

     What Cestius Did Against The Jews; And How, Upon His Besieging Jerusalem, He Retreated From The City Without Any Just Occasion In The World. As Also What Severe Calamities He Under Went From The Jews In His Retreat.

     1. And now Gallus, seeing nothing more that looked towards an innovation in Galilee, returned with his army to Cesarea: but Cestius removed with his whole army, and marched to Antipatris; and when he was informed that there was a great body of Jewish forces gotten together in a certain tower called Aphek, he sent a party before to fight them; but this party dispersed the Jews by affrighting them before it came to a battle: so they came, and finding their camp deserted, they burnt it, as well as the villages that lay about it. But when Cestius had marched from Antipatris to Lydda, he found the city empty of its men, for the whole multitude 28 were gone up to Jerusalem to the feast of tabernacles; yet did he destroy fifty of those that showed themselves, and burnt the city, and so marched forwards; and ascending by Betboron, he pitched his camp at a certain place called Gabao, fifty furlongs distant from Jerusalem.

     2. But as for the Jews, when they saw the war approaching to their metropolis, they left the feast, and betook themselves to their arms; and taking courage greatly from their multitude, went in a sudden and disorderly manner to the fight, with a great noise, and without any consideration had of the rest of the seventh day, although the Sabbath 29 was the day to which they had the greatest regard; but that rage which made them forget the religious observation [of the sabbath] made them too hard for their enemies in the fight: with such violence therefore did they fall upon the Romans, as to break into their ranks, and to march through the midst of them, making a great slaughter as they went, insomuch that unless the horsemen, and such part of the footmen as were not yet tired in the action, had wheeled round, and succored that part of the army which was not yet broken, Cestius, with his whole army, had been in danger: however, five hundred and fifteen of the Romans were slain, of which number four hundred were footmen, and the rest horsemen, while the Jews lost only twenty-two, of whom the most valiant were the kinsmen of Monobazus, king of Adiabene, and their names were Monobazus and Kenedeus; and next to them were Niger of Perea, and Silas of Babylon, who had deserted from king Agrippa to the Jews; for he had formerly served in his army. When the front of the Jewish army had been cut off, the Jews retired into the city; but still Simon, the son of Giora, fell upon the backs of the Romans, as they were ascending up Bethoron, and put the hindmost of the army into disorder, and carried off many of the beasts that carried the weapons of war, and led Shem into the city. But as Cestius tarried there three days, the Jews seized upon the elevated parts of the city, and set watches at the entrances into the city, and appeared openly resolved not to rest when once the Romans should begin to march.

     3. And now when Agrippa observed that even the affairs of the Romans were likely to be in danger, while such an immense multitude of their enemies had seized upon the mountains round about, he determined to try what the Jews would agree to by words, as thinking that he should either persuade them all to desist from fighting, or, however, that he should cause the sober part of them to separate themselves from the opposite party. So he sent Borceus and Phebus, the persons of his party that were the best known to them, and promised them that Cestius should give them his right hand, to secure them of the Romans' entire forgiveness of what they had done amiss, if they would throw away their arms, and come over to them; but the seditious, fearing lest the whole multitude, in hopes of security to themselves, should go over to Agrippa, resolved immediately to fall upon and kill the ambassadors; accordingly they slew Phebus before he said a word, but Borceus was only wounded, and so prevented his fate by flying away. And when the people were very angry at this, they had the seditious beaten with stones and clubs, and drove them before them into the city.

     4. But now Cestius, observing that the disturbances that were begun among the Jews afforded him a proper opportunity to attack them, took his whole army along with him, and put the Jews to flight, and pursued them to Jerusalem. He then pitched his camp upon the elevation called Scopus, [or watch-tower,] which was distant seven furlongs from the city; yet did not he assault them in three days' time, out of expectation that those within might perhaps yield a little; and in the mean time he sent out a great many of his soldiers into neighboring villages, to seize upon their corn. And on the fourth day, which was the thirtieth of the month Hyperbereteus, [Tisri,] when he had put his army in array, he brought it into the city. Now for the people, they were kept under by the seditious; but the seditious themselves were greatly affrighted at the good order of the Romans, and retired from the suburbs, and retreated into the inner part of the city, and into the temple. But when Cestius was come into the city, he set the part called Bezetha, which is called Cenopolis, [or the new city,] on fire; as he did also to the timber market; after which he came into the upper city, and pitched his camp over against the royal palace; and had he but at this very time attempted to get within the walls by force, he had won the city presently, and the war had been put an end to at once; but Tyrannius Priseus, the muster-master of the army, and a great number of the officers of the horse, had been corrupted by Florus, and diverted him from that his attempt; and that was the occasion that this war lasted so very long, and thereby the Jews were involved in such incurable calamities.

          The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston

The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)

Proverbs 22:5-6
     by D.H. Stern

5     Thorns and snares beset the way of the stubborn;
he who values his life keeps his distance from them.

6     Train a child in the way he [should] go;
and, even when old, he will not swerve from it.

Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
Mushrooms On The Moor
     by Frank W. Boreham

     IX | FORTY!

     Life moves along so smoothly with most of us that there seems to be very little difference between one birthday and another; but to this rule there is one brilliant and outstanding exception. There is one birthday on which a man should certainly take a holiday, go for a quiet stroll, and indulge in a little serious stock-taking. That birthday is, of course, the fortieth. A man's fortieth birthday is one of the really great days in his life's little story; and he must make the most of it. I live in a city which boasts a comparatively meagre population. The number of people who reach their fortieth birthday simultaneously must be very small. But in a city of any size some hundreds of people must daily become forty. And if I dwelt in such a place, I should feel tempted to conduct a service every now and again for men and women who were celebrating their fortieth birthday. People so circumstanced, naturally impressed by the dignity and solemnity of the occasion, would welcome such a service, and the preacher would have a chance of sowing the seed in ground that was well prepared, and of the greatest possible promise. The selection of a text would present no difficulty. I can think of two right off—one in the Old Testament, and one in the New—and there must be scores of others equally appropriate. At forty a man enters upon middle life. What could be more helpful to him, then, than a short inspiring word on such a text as Habakkuk's prayer: 'O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make Thyself known!'

     I have been recalling, this morning, some painful memories. In my time I have several times known that peculiarly acute species of anguish that only comes to us when we discover a cherished idol in ruins. Men—some of them ministers—upon whose integrity I would cheerfully have staked everything I possessed, suddenly whelmed themselves in shame, and staggered out into the dark. It is an experience that makes a man feel that the very earth is rocking beneath him; it makes him wonder if it is possible for a good man to be somehow caught in a hot gust of devilry and swept clean off his feet. But the thing that has impressed me as I have counted such names sadly on my fingers is that, without an exception, they were all in the forties, most of them in the early forties. Youth, of course, often sins, and sins grievously; but youth recovers itself, and frequently emerges chastened and ennobled by the bitter experience; but I can recall no instance of a man who fell in the forties and who ever really recovered himself. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. I remember that, some time ago, Sir W. Robertson Nicoll quoted a brilliant essayist as saying that 'the most dangerous years are the forties—the years when men begin to be rich, when they have opportunities of gratifying their passions, when they, perhaps, imagine that they have led a starved and meagre existence.' And so, as I let my mind play about these old and saddening memories, and as I reflect upon the essayist's corroboration of my own conclusion, I fancy I could utter, from the very heart of me, a particularly timely and particularly searching word to those who had just attained their fortieth birthdays. Or, if I felt that the occasion was too solemn for speech, I could at least lead them in prayer. And when I led them in prayer, it would certainly be Habakkuk's prayer: 'O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years; in the midst of the years make Thyself known!' It is a prayer for revival and for revelation.

     The real significance of that prayer lies in the fact that the supreme tendency of middle life is towards prosiness. Young people write poetry and get sentimental: so do old people. But people in the forties—never! A man of forty would as soon be suspected of picking his neighbour's pocket as of writing poetry. He would rather be seen walking down the street without collar or necktie than be seen shedding tears. Ask a company of young people to select some of their favourite hymns or songs. They will at once call for hymns about heaven or songs about love. So will old people. But you will never persuade middle-aged people to sing such songs. They are in the practical or prosy stage of life. The romance of youth has worn off; the romance of age has not arrived. They are between the poetry of the dawn and the poetry of the twilight. And midway between the poetry of the dawn and the poetry of the twilight comes the panting perspiration of noonday. When, therefore, I find myself face to face with my congregation of people who are in the very act of celebrating their fortieth birthday, I shall urge them to pray with the old prophet that, in the midst of the years, the youthful romance of their first faith may be revived within them, and that, in the midst of the years, the revelations that come at eventide may be delightfully anticipated.

     I said just now, however, that I had an alternative text from the New Testament. I have an idea that if my first service is a success, I shall hold another; and, for the sake of variety, I shall address myself to this second theme. Concerning the very first apostolic miracle we are expressly and significantly told that 'the man was above forty years old on whom this miracle of healing was showed.' Now I cannot imagine why that particular is added unless it is to tell those of us who are now 'above forty years old' that we are not beyond the reach of the sensational. We have not outlived the romance of the miraculous. We are not 'too old at forty' to experience all the marvel and the wonder of the grace divine. And, even as I write, I confidently anticipate the sparkle that will light up the eyes of these forty-year-olds as I remind them that that man was above forty years of age upon whom this first triumph of the Church was wrought.

     But there are worse things than prosiness. The mere change from the poetry of youth to the prose of middle life need not in itself alarm us. Some of the finest classics in our literature are penned in prose. But within this minor peril lies the germ of a major peril. The trouble is that prosiness may develop into pessimism. And when prosiness curdles into pessimism the case of the patient is very grave. I heard a young fellow in his teens telling a much older man of his implicit faith in the providence of God. 'Yes,' said the senior, with a sardonic smile, 'I used to talk like that when I was your age!' I heard a young girl telling a woman old enough to be her mother of the rapture of her soul's experience. 'Ah!' replied the elder lady, 'You won't talk like that when you have seen as much of the world as I have!' Here, then, at last we have put our finger on the tragedy that threatens us in the forties. Why is it?

     The reason is not far to seek. The fact is that at forty a man must drop something. He has been all his life accumulating until he has become really overloaded. He has maintained his interest in all the things that occupied his attention in youth; and, all the way along the road, fresh claims have been made upon him. His position in the world is a much more responsible one, and makes a greater drain upon his thought and energy. He has married, too, and children have come into his home. There has been struggle and sickness and anxiety. Interests have multiplied, and life has increased in seriousness. But, increasing in seriousness, it must not be allowed to increase in sordidness. A man's life is like a garden. There is a limit to the things that it will grow. You cannot pack plants in a garden as you pack sardines in a tin. That is why the farmer thins out the turnips; that is why the orchardist prunes his trees; and that is why the husbandman pinches the grapebuds off the trailing vines. Life has to be similarly treated. At forty a man realizes that his garden is getting overcrowded. It contains all the flowers that he planted in his sentimental youth and all the vegetables that he set there in his prosaic manhood. It is too much. There must be a thinning out. And, unless he is very, very careful, he will find that the thinning-out process will automatically consist of the sacrifice of all the pansies and the retention of all the potatoes.

     Now, when I address my congregation of people who are celebrating their fortieth birthday, I shall make a most fervent appeal on behalf of the pansies. Potatoes are excellent things, and the garden becomes distinctly wealthier when, in the twenties and thirties, a man begins to moderate his passion for pansies, and to plant a few potatoes. But a time comes when he must make a stand on behalf of the pansies, or he will have no soul for anything beyond potatoes. Round his potato beds let him jealously retain a border of his finest pansies; and, depend upon it, when he gets into the fifties and the sixties he will be glad that, all through life, he remained true to the first fondnesses of youth.

     Not that he will have to wait for the fifties and the sixties. As soon as a man has faced the situation, taken his stand, and made his decision, he begins to congratulate himself upon it. That is one of life's most subtle laws. Let us, then, see how it operates in another field. Sir Francis Jeune, the great divorce judge, said that the eighth year was the dangerous year in wedded life. More tragedies occurred in the eighth year than in any other. And Mr. Philip Gibbs has recently written a novel entitled The Eighth Year: A Vital Problem of Married Life (Classic Reprint), in which he makes the heroine declare that, in marriage, the eighth year is the fatal year.

     '"It's a psychological fact," said Madge. "I work it out in this way. In the first and second years a wife is absorbed in the experiment of marriage and in the sentimental phase of love. In the third and fourth years she begins to study her husband and to find him out. In the fifth and sixth years, having found him out completely, she makes a working compromise with life and tries to make the best of it. In the seventh and eighth years she begins to find out herself. Life has become prosaic. Her home has become a cage to her. In the eighth year she must find a way of escape—anyhow, anywhere. And in the eighth year the one great question is, in what direction will she go? There are many ways of escape."' And so comes the disaster.

     All this seems to show that the eighth year of marriage is like the fortieth year of life. It is the year in which husband and wife are called upon to make their supreme stand on behalf of the pansies. And supposing they do it? Suppose that they make up their minds that everything shall not be sacrificed to potatoes; what follows? Why, to be sure, the best follows. Coventry Patmore, in his The Angel in the House —the classic of all young husbands and young wives—says that the years that follow the eighth are the sweetest and the fullest of all. What, he asks—

  For sweetness like the ten years' wife,
    Whose customary love is not
  Her passion, or her play, but life?
    With beauties so maturely fair,
  Affecting, mild, and manifold,
    May girlish charms no more compare
  Than apples green with apples gold.
    Ah, still unpraised Honoria, Heaven,
  When you into my arms it gave,
    Left naught hereafter to be given
  But grace to feel the good I have.

     Here, then, is the crisis reached; the stand successfully made on behalf of the pansies; and all life fuller and richer for ever afterwards in consequence. Every man and woman at forty is called upon for a similar chivalrous effort. At forty we become the knights of the pansies, and if we let them go we shall find that at fifty it will be difficult to find even a sprig of heartsease anywhere.

     Whether I take as my text the prophet's prayer for a revival and a revelation in the midst of the years, or the story of the man who was more than forty years old when he fell under the spell of the miraculous, I know how I shall close my sermon. I shall close by telling the story of Dr. Kenn and Maggie Tulliver from The mill on the Floss. It will convince my hearers that folk in the forties have a great and beautiful and sacred ministry to exercise. Maggie was young, and the perplexities of life were too much for her. Dr. Kenn was arrested by the expression of anguish in her beautiful eyes. Dr. Kenn was himself neither young nor old, but middle-aged; and Maggie felt a childlike, instinctive relief when she saw that it was Dr. Kenn's face that was looking into hers. 'That plain, middle-aged face, with a grave, penetrating kindness in it, seeming to tell of a human being who had reached a firm, safe strand, but was looking with helpful pity towards the strugglers still tossed by the waves, had an effect on Maggie at this moment which was afterwards remembered by her as if it had been a promise.' And then George Eliot makes this trite and significant remark. 'The middle-aged,' she says, 'who have lived through their strongest emotions, but are yet in the time when memory is still half-passionate and not merely contemplative, should surely be a sort of natural priesthood, whom life has disciplined and consecrated to be the refuge and rescue of early stumblers and victims of self-despair. Most of us, at some moment in our young lives, would have welcomed a priest of that natural order in any sort of canonicals or uncanonicals, but had to scramble upwards into all the difficulties of nineteen entirely without such aid.'

     And after hearing that fine story my congregation of folk on the threshold of the forties will return from the quiet church to the busy street humming the songs that they sang at nineteen; vowing that, come what may, the potatoes shall not elbow out all the pansies; and congratulating themselves that the richest wine in the chalice of life still waits their thirsty lips.

Mushrooms on the Moor
My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The discipline of disillusionment

     Jesus did not commit Himself unto them … for He knew what was in man.
--- John 2:24–25

     Disillusionment means that there are no more false judgments in life. To be undeceived by disillusionment may leave us cynical and unkindly severe in our judgment of others, but the disillusionment which comes from God brings us to the place where we see men and women as they really are, and yet there is no cynicism, we have no stinging, bitter things to say. Many of the cruel things in life spring from the fact that we suffer from illusions. We are not true to one another as facts; we are true only to our ideas of one another. Everything is either delightful and fine, or mean and dastardly, according to our idea.

     The refusal to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering in human life. It works in this way—if we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being what he or she cannot give. There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Why Our Lord is apparently so severe regarding every human relationship is because He knows that every relationship not based on loyalty to Himself will end in disaster. Our Lord trusted no man, yet He was never suspicious, never bitter. Our Lord’s confidence in God and in what His grace could do for any man was so perfect that He despaired of no one. If our trust is placed in human beings, we shall end in despairing of everyone.

My Utmost for His Highest

The Return
     the Poetry of RS Thomas

                The Return

Coming home was to that:
  The white house in the cool grass
  Membraned with shadow, the bright stretch
  Of stream that was its looking-glass;

  And smoke growing above the roof
  To a tall tree among whose boughs
  The first stars renewed their theme
  Of time and death and a man's vows.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

Searching For Meaning In Midrash
     Exodus 13:11–15

     There is “tomorrow” now, and there is “tomorrow” at a later time.

     BIBLE TEXT / Exodus 13:11–15 / “And when the Lord has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and has given it to you, you shall set apart for the Lord every first issue of the womb: every male firstling that your cattle drop shall be the Lord’s. But every firstling ass you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every firstborn male among your children. And when tomorrow, your son asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘It was with a mighty hand that the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the house of bondage. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord slew every first-born in the land of Egypt, the first-born of both man and beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every first male issue of the womb, but redeem every first-born among my sons.’ ” [authors’ translation]

     MIDRASH TEXT / Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Bo 18 / And when tomorrow, your son asks. There is “tomorrow” now, and there is “tomorrow” at a later time. “Tomorrow” for saying “What does this mean?” is tomorrow at a later time. “Tomorrow this sign shall come to pass” (Exodus 8:19) is tomorrow now. “Tomorrow I will station myself”
(Exodus 17:9) is tomorrow now. “Tomorrow, your children might say to our children” (Joshua 22:24, authors’ translation) is tomorrow at a later time.

     CONTEXT / Most modern translations already reflect the fact that the Hebrew word מָחָר/maḥar can mean literally “tomorrow” or idiomatically “some future time,” depending on the context. Thus, the new Jewish Publication Society version of our Bible text is “And when, in time to come [מָחָר/maḥar], your son asks you.…” This Midrash is based on these different meanings of the word מָחָר/maḥar.

     There is “tomorrow” now; מָחָר/maḥar can mean the day after this one. And there is “tomorrow” at a later time, when מָחָר/maḥar means “a time to come,” some future day. In the first example, it is obvious from the context of “when your son asks you” that “tomorrow” means “in years to come.” The use of the word מָחָר/maḥar here is not the same as its use in the second example, from the fourth plague against the Egyptians. Moses tells Pharaoh that “Tomorrow this sign shall come to pass” Exodus 8:19). Moses here means “on the next day,” which is when the plague, a swarm of insects, will be brought against the Egyptians.

     Another example of the word מָחָר/maḥar is introduced by the Rabbis in our Midrash text. It comes from the story of the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. Moses tells the Israelites that “Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9). This will happen on the next day, the more immediate tomorrow. The Rabbis introduce a fourth example of מָחָר/maḥar from the end of the Book of Joshua. There, we read about a dispute between the Israelites who dwell on the west side of the Jordan and the two and one-half tribes—the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh—who possessed the land east of the Jordan. These two and one-half tribes have erected an altar to God, and Joshua and the Israelites are angered by this. The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh respond that “Tomorrow, your children might say to our children” that we are not part of the Israelites. In other words, “your children” from the west side of the Jordan may block “our children” from the east side of the river from worshiping God at a shrine “over there.” The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh are saying: We have built an altar on our side of the river as a preventive measure against the future. “Tomorrow” is not the next day, but “in time to come,” as many translations have it.

     These four readings of biblical passages highlight the careful manner in which the Rabbis read the sacred text. They understood that the same word can have different meanings based on the context. Part of midrashic methodology is close reading and analysis not only of words but also of context.

Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living

Take Heart
     July 30

     Delight yourself in the LORD.
--- Psalm 37:4.

     The highest step of delight is a silencing of desire and the banquet of the soul on its desired object. Works of Stephen Charnock (5 Volume Set)

     But there is a [less lofty] delight.

     Delight in desires. There is a cheerfulness in labor as well as in attainment. The desire of Canaan made the good Israelites cheerful in the wilderness. There is a beginning delight in motion but a consummate delight in rest and fulfillment.

     Delight in hopes. Desired happiness affects the soul—much more, expected happiness. “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (
Rom. 5:2). Joy is the natural consequence of a well-grounded hope. There may be joy in title as well as in possession.

     Delight in contemplation. The consideration and serious thoughts of heaven affect a gracious heart and fill it with pleasure, though that heart is in a wilderness. The near approach to a desired good much affects the heart. Moses was surely more pleased with the sight of Canaan from Pisgah than with the hopes of it in the desert. A traveler’s delight is more raised when nearest the journey’s end, and a hungry stomach has a greater joy when it sees the food approaching that must satisfy the appetite. As the union with the object is nearer, so the delight is stronger. Now the delight the soul has in duty is not a delight of fulfillment but of desire, hope, or contemplation—a delight of the journey, not of the home.

     Now this delight in prayer is an inward and hearty delight, seated in the heart. As God is hearty in offering mercy, so is the soul in petitioning for it. There is a harmony between God and the heart. Those purposes that God has in giving are a Christian’s purpose in asking. The more our hearts are in the requests, the more God’s heart is in the grants. The emphasis of mercy is God’s whole heart and whole soul in it (
Jer. 32:41). So the emphasis of duty is the Christian’s whole heart and whole soul. As without God’s cheerful answering, a gracious soul would not relish a mercy, so without our hearty asking God does not relish our prayers.
--- Stephen Charnock

Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     The Lame Man  July 30

     Luther’s Reformation swept over Europe like a flash flood. Most of Germany and Scandinavia became Protestant. England broke with Rome. Switzerland and the Netherlands were largely Protestant, and the Reformation tide rose in France, Austria, Hungary, and Poland. Some expected Spain and Italy to be next.

     The Vatican responded in several ways. The Council of Trent addressed church problems. The Inquisition was unleashed. Military and diplomatic efforts were employed. But perhaps the most effective counteroffensive was a religious order established in 1540 by a crippled Spanish nobleman named Ignatius Loyola.

     Loyola was born among the Basques of Spain, the youngest of 12 children. He was a reckless youth, frequently in trouble with the law. While serving in the Spanish army, he was crippled for life when a cannonball crashed into his leg. The doctors repeatedly broke and reset the leg without anesthesia, but to little avail. While recovering, Ignatius began reading books about Christ and the saints. “What if I should do great things for God like St. Francis and St. Dominic?” he asked himself in excitement. A new passion rose in his heart, and he fasted, prayed, scourged himself, and experienced hundreds of strange visions.

     Out of his experiences came a manual, Spiritual Exercises; and, book in hand, he limped to the University of Paris. He was 38, barely five feet tall, and unwell. But he recruited six students (including Francis Xavier) to the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits.

     The Jesuits emphasized knowledge and displayed great intelligence. Loyola lived to see 1,000 men in his order and 100 colleges and seminaries established. The Jesuits became the greatest force in the Catholic Reformation. His work ended, Loyola was seized by a violent gallbladder attack. On July 30, 1556, in intense suffering, he devoted the Evening to prayer, then died. But he left behind arguably the most powerful religious order in the Catholic Church.

     Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold! But I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, get up and start walking.” Peter then took him by the right hand and helped him up. … Everyone saw him walking around and praising God.
--- Acts 3:6,7,9.

On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - July 30

     “And when he thought thereon, he wept.” --- Mark 14:72.

     It has been thought by some that as long as Peter lived, the fountain of his tears began to flow whenever he remembered his denying his Lord. It is not unlikely that it was so, for his sin was very great, and grace in him had afterwards a perfect work. This same experience is common to all the redeemed family according to the degree in which the Spirit of God has removed the natural heart of stone. We, like Peter, remember our boastful promise: “Though all men shall forsake thee, yet will not I.” We eat our own words with the bitter herbs of repentance. When we think of what we vowed we would be, and of what we have been, we may weep whole showers of grief. He thought on his denying his Lord. The place in which he did it, the little cause which led him into such heinous sin, the oaths and blasphemies with which he sought to confirm his falsehood, and the dreadful hardness of heart which drove him to do so again and yet again. Can we, when we are reminded of our sins, and their exceeding sinfulness, remain stolid and stubborn? Will we not make our house a Bochim, and cry unto the Lord for renewed assurances of pardoning love? May we never take a dry-eyed look at sin, lest ere long we have a tongue parched in the flames of hell. Peter also thought upon his Master’s look of love. The Lord followed up the cock’s warning voice with an admonitory look of sorrow, pity, and love. That glance was never out of Peter’s mind so long as he lived. It was far more effectual than ten thousand RS Thomas would have been without the Spirit. The penitent apostle would be sure to weep when he recollected the Saviour’s full forgiveness, which restored him to his former place. To think that we have offended so kind and good a Lord is more than sufficient reason for being constant weepers. Lord, smite our rocky hearts, and make the waters flow.

          Evening - July 30

     “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” --- John 6:37.

     No limit is set to the duration of this promise. It does not merely say, “I will not cast out a sinner at his first coming,” but, “I will in no wise cast out.” The original reads, “I will not, not cast out,” or “I will never, never cast out.” The text means, that Christ will not at first reject a believer; and that as he will not do it at first, so he will not to the last.

     But suppose the believer sins after coming? “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” But suppose that believers backslide? “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” But believers may fall under temptation! “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” But the believer may fall into sin as David did! Yes, but he will “Purge them with hyssop, and they shall be clean; he will wash them and they shall be whiter than snow”; “From all their iniquities will I cleanse them.”

     “Once in Christ, in Christ for ever,
     Nothing from his love can sever.”

     “I give unto my sheep,” saith he, “eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” What sayest thou to this, O trembling feeble mind? Is not this a precious mercy, that coming to Christ, thou dost not come to One who will treat thee well for a little while, and then send thee about thy business, but he will receive thee and make thee his bride, and thou shalt be his for ever? Receive no longer the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption whereby thou shalt cry, Abba, Father! Oh! the grace of these words: “I will in no wise cast out.”

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     July 30


     Avis B. Christiansen, 1895–1985

     When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)

     Lord, we wait for Thine appearing;
     “Even so,” Thy people say;
     Bright the prospect is, and cheering,
     Of beholding Thee that day.

     --- Thomas Kelly

     Heaven is not an invention of the human imagination. It is as sure as the promise of Christ in the Scriptures: “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3). The Bible, however, does not tell us a great deal about the specifics of heaven, simply because our mortal minds are unable to comprehend its riches. The main concern of the Scriptures is to acquaint us with the One who has made our entry into heaven possible. Because of His redemptive work in our behalf, seeing Him personally becomes the real glory of heaven for every believer.

     We have all heard the expression that “we can become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.” It is possible that we can think and dream about our eternal future to the point that we forget to live effectively for God now. But the greater concern for most of us is that we become so consumed with the enjoyments of this present life that we lose sight of the glories that await us and the anticipation of seeing our Savior. Our hope in Christ for the future should be the real source of joy and strength for our daily lives. It should also be our motive for holy living—“to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12, 13).

     Sweet is the hope that is thrilling my soul—I know I’ll see Jesus some day! Then what if the dark clouds of sin o’er me roll? I know I’ll see Jesus some day!
     Though I must travel by faith, not by sight, I know I’ll see Jesus some day! No evil can harm me, no foe can affright—I know I’ll see Jesus some day!
     Darkness is gath’ring, but hope shines within. I know I’ll see Jesus some day! What joy when He comes to wipe out ev’ry sin; I know I’ll see Jesus some day!
     Chorus: I know I’ll see Jesus some day! I know I’ll see Jesus some day! What a joy it will be when His face I shall see; I know I’ll see Jesus some day!

     For Today: 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6, 8; Philippians 3:20, 21; Revelation 22:1-5

     Let your soul come alive with the thrill of expectation—the glories of heaven and the prospect of personally seeing Jesus. Carry this joy with you as you sing with certainty ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)

     Sect. CII. — THE second contrivance is this: — ‘that Malachi does not seem to speak of that hatred by which we are damned to all eternity, but of temporal affliction: seeing that, those are reproved who wished to destroy Edom.’ —

     This, again, is advanced in contempt of Paul, as though he had done violence to the Scriptures. Thus, we hold in no reverence whatever, the majesty of the Holy Spirit, and only aim at establishing our own sentiments. But let us bear with this contempt for a moment, and see what it effects. Malachi, then, speaks of temporal affliction. And what if he do? What is that to your purpose? Paul proves out of Malachi, that that affliction was laid on Esau without any desert, by the hatred of God only: and this he does, that he might thence conclude, that there is no such thing as “Free-will.” This is the point that makes against you, and it is to this you ought to have answered. I am arguing about merit, and you are all the while talking about reward; and yet, you so talk about it, as not to evade that which you wish to evade; nay, in your very talking about reward, you acknowledge merit; and yet, pretend you do not see it. Tell me, then, what moved God to love Jacob, and to hate Esau, even before they were born?

     But however, the assertion, that Malachi is speaking of temporal affliction only, is false: nor is he speaking of the destroying of Edom: you entirely pervert the sense of the prophet by this contrivance. The prophet shews what he means, in words the most clear. — He upbraids the Israelites with ingratitude: because, after God had loved them, they did not, in return, either love Him as their Father, or fear Him as their Lord. (Mal. i. 6.).

     That God had loved them, he proves, both by the Scriptures, and by facts: viz. in this: — that although Jacob and Esau were brothers, as Moses records Gen. xxv. 21-28, yet He loved Jacob and chose him before he was born, as we have heard from Paul already; but that, He so hated Esau, that He removed away his dwelling into the desert; that moreover, he so continued and pursued that hatred, that when He brought back Jacob from captivity and restored him, He would not suffer the Edomites to be restored; and that, even if they at any time said they wished to build, He threatened them with destruction. If this be not the plain meaning of the prophet’s text, let the whole world prove me a liar. — Therefore the temerity of the Edomites is not here reproved, but, as I said before, the ingratitude of the sons of Jacob; who do not see what God has done, for them, and against their brethren the Edomites; and for no other reason, than because, He hated the one, and loved the other.

     How then will your assertion stand good, that the prophet is here speaking of temporal affliction, when he testifies, in the plainest words, that he is speaking of the two people as proceeding from the two patriarchs, the one received to be a people and saved, and the other left and at last destroyed? To be received as a people, and not to be received as a people, does not pertain to temporal good and evil only, but unto all things. For our God is not the God of temporal things only, but of all things. Nor does God will to be thy God so as to be worshipped with one shoulder, or with a lame foot, but with all thy might, and with all thy heart, that He may be thy God as well here, as hereafter, in all things, times, and works.

The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library

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