Isaiah 13 - 17
The Judgment of BabylonIsaiah 13:1 The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.
2 On a bare hill raise a signal;
cry aloud to them;
wave the hand for them to enter
the gates of the nobles.
3 I myself have commanded my consecrated ones,
and have summoned my mighty men to execute my anger,
my proudly exulting ones.
4 The sound of a tumult is on the mountains
as of a great multitude!
The sound of an uproar of kingdoms,
of nations gathering together!
The LORD of hosts is mustering
a host for battle.
5 They come from a distant land,
from the end of the heavens,
the LORD and the weapons of his indignation,
to destroy the whole land.
6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
7 Therefore all hands will be feeble,
and every human heart will melt.
8 They will be dismayed:
pangs and agony will seize them;
they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another;
their faces will be aflame.
9 Behold, the day of the LORD comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,
and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the LORD of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger.
14 And like a hunted gazelle,
or like sheep with none to gather them,
each will turn to his own people,
and each will flee to his own land.
15 Whoever is found will be thrust through,
and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed in pieces
before their eyes;
their houses will be plundered
and their wives ravished.
17 Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them,
who have no regard for silver
and do not delight in gold.
18 Their bows will slaughter the young men;
they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb;
their eyes will not pity children.
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
21 But wild animals will lie down there,
and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there wild goats will dance.
22 Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged.
The Restoration of Jacob
Isaiah 14:1 For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. 2 And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD’s land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.
Israel’s Remnant Taunts Babylon3 When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
“How the oppressor has ceased,
the insolent fury ceased!
5 The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked,
the scepter of rulers,
6 that struck the peoples in wrath
with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
with unrelenting persecution.
7 The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
they break forth into singing.
8 The cypresses rejoice at you,
the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
no woodcutter comes up against us.’
9 Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will answer
and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
and worms are your covers.
12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
16 Those who see you will stare at you
and ponder over you:
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
who shook kingdoms,
17 who made the world like a desert
and overthrew its cities,
who did not let his prisoners go home?’
18 All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
each in his own tomb;
19 but you are cast out, away from your grave,
like a loathed branch,
clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword,
who go down to the stones of the pit,
like a dead body trampled underfoot.
20 You will not be joined with them in burial,
because you have destroyed your land,
you have slain your people.
“May the offspring of evildoers
nevermore be named!
21 Prepare slaughter for his sons
because of the guilt of their fathers,
lest they rise and possess the earth,
and fill the face of the world with cities.”
An Oracle Concerning Assyria
24 The LORD of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
so shall it stand,
25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
and his burden from their shoulder.”
26 This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?
An Oracle Concerning Philistia28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:
29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder,
and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
and there is no straggler in his ranks.
32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The LORD has founded Zion,
and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.”
An Oracle Concerning MoabIsaiah 15:1 An oracle concerning Moab.
Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone.
2 He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
On every head is baldness;
every beard is shorn;
3 in the streets they wear sackcloth;
on the housetops and in the squares
everyone wails and melts in tears.
4 Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
his soul trembles.
5 My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
For at the ascent of Luhith
they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
they raise a cry of destruction;
6 the waters of Nimrim
are a desolation;
the grass is withered, the vegetation fails,
the greenery is no more.
7 Therefore the abundance they have gained
and what they have laid up
they carry away
over the Brook of the Willows.
8 For a cry has gone
around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
9 For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
for the remnant of the land.
Isaiah 16:1 Send the lamb to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, by way of the desert,
to the mount of the daughter of Zion.
2 Like fleeing birds,
like a scattered nest,
so are the daughters of Moab
at the fords of the Arnon.
3 “Give counsel;
make your shade like night
at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts;
do not reveal the fugitive;
4 let the outcasts of Moab
sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
from the destroyer.
When the oppressor is no more,
and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,
5 then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness
in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
and is swift to do righteousness.”
6 We have heard of the pride of Moab—
how proud he is!—
of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence;
in his idle boasting he is not right.
7 Therefore let Moab wail for Moab,
let everyone wail.
Mourn, utterly stricken,
for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.
8 For the fields of Heshbon languish,
and the vine of Sibmah;
the lords of the nations
have struck down its branches,
which reached to Jazer
and strayed to the desert;
its shoots spread abroad
and passed over the sea.
9 Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer
for the vine of Sibmah;
I drench you with my tears,
O Heshbon and Elealeh;
for over your summer fruit and your harvest
the shout has ceased.
10 And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field,
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
no cheers are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
I have put an end to the shouting.
11 Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.
13 This is the word that the LORD spoke concerning Moab in the past. 14 But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”
Isaiah 17Isaiah 17:1 An oracle concerning Damascus.
Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
and will become a heap of ruins.
2 The cities of Aroer are deserted;
they will be for flocks,
which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
3 The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the LORD of hosts.
4 And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
and the fat of his flesh will grow lean.
5 And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain
and his arm harvests the ears,
and as when one gleans the ears of grain
in the Valley of Rephaim.
6 Gleanings will be left in it,
as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the LORD God of Israel.
9 In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.
10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
11 though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain.
12 Ah, the thunder of many peoples;
they thunder like the thundering of the sea!
Ah, the roar of nations;
they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!
13 The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
14 At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us.
What I'm Reading
It Takes a Church to Raise a Child
By Mark Bates 3/1/2011
I have often heard parents of college students lament that their children return home from school, drop off the laundry, and immediately go out with friends without spending any time with the family. I remember hearing that complaint and thinking, “My little girls will never do that.”
After my daughter’s first semester in college, she came home, dropped off her laundry, and immediately went to see a friend. However, I wasn’t upset. I was thankful. The “friend” that my daughter went to see is the wife of an elder. That my daughter would want to spend time with this godly woman is a testimony to the church.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It is also not something parents should attempt to do alone. Thankfully, those in the church don’t have to. They are part of an extended family — the family of God — that can play a vital role in the raising of children.
When a child is baptized, the church remembers God’s covenant promise to bless believers and their children (Gen. 17:7), and it also renews its own commitment to caring for the children. While raising children is primarily the responsibility of parents, it is not exclusively so.
(Ge 17:6–7) 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. ESV
After all, God charged the entire nation of Israel to teach the children (Deut. 6).
How can church members assist parents in raising children to know and love the Lord? There are a number of practical ways.
First, support the children’s ministry in your church. This includes supporting the church budget, but also serving in ministries to children.
When I was in third grade, my family moved to Atlanta. We had been involved in our previous church since its inception. It was the only church I had ever known. Suddenly, I found myself in a new city, a new church, and a new Sunday school class. The Sunday school teacher, Mr. Tinken, greeted me warmly and he helped me get to know the other boys. Mr. Tinken did not have any sons my age, but he loved us and served us faithfully by teaching us. His presence in that classroom week after week fostered my love for Jesus.
Second, speak to the children, not just to their parents. Ask them about their schools, sports, or hobbies. All of these things that we consider “small talk” are ways to enter their world and express love and concern. Through this small talk, relationships of trust develop that can be vital as the child grows older and needs other people to talk to besides just mom and dad.
Third, older adults can have a profound impact on the children in the church family by befriending parents of young children. Many of our young parents did not grow up in Christian homes. They have no models for what it means to disciple their children or to parent in a godly way. Other young parents are often far away from family. Many of these long for mentors who will come alongside them, not merely as dispensers of wisdom, but as encouragers and friends. These parents need someone to remind them that, even when they fail, God is still at work caring for their children.
This is particularly important for single parents or for those who have a spouse who is not a Christian. Parenting is not something a person can do alone. Yet, in our fallen world, many are forced to do so. The church can mitigate the effects of broken families by befriending both the parents and children in singleparent homes. By taking a single mom to lunch, watching her kids while she gets a night out, or even going to the children’s soccer games to cheer them on, church members can have a profound impact on the children from single-parent homes.
My youngest daughter’s school has an annual Grandparents’ Day. Most of the other children have grandmothers who live in town and join in the celebration. However, one of my daughter’s grandmothers died a few years ago. The other lives on the other side of the country. So, a woman in the church volunteered to be her “grandmother.” For the past three years, she has gone with her to Grandparents’ Day and then taken her out for ice cream afterwards. This could have been an awkward, even painful situation for my daughter. However, this dear woman demonstrated what it means for the church to be the family of God by taking the time to love my daughter.
Finally, church members can pray for the children. Our children are part of a great spiritual battle — a battle for their souls. We will not win this battle through better programs or better parenting techniques. God must work in the hearts of our children. So, we must pray for them, even as the apostle Paul prays for the church, that God may give them “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17).
It takes more than parents to raise a child. It takes a family — a large family. Thank God that He has given us the church to be the family of God and blessed us all with the privilege of raising children.
The Goodness of the Law
By R.C. Sproul 3/1/2011
“Oh how I love your law!” (Ps. 119:97). What a strange statement of affection. Why would anyone direct his love toward the law of God? The law limits our choices, restricts our freedom, torments our consciences, and pushes us down with a mighty weight that cannot be overcome, and yet the psalmist declares his affection for the law in passionate terms. He calls the law sweeter than honey to his mouth (Ps. 119:3).
What is it about the law of God that can provoke such affection? In the first place, the law is not an abstract set of rules and regulations. The law reflects the will of the Lawgiver, and in that regard it is intensely personal. The law reflects to the creature the perfect will of the Creator and at the same time reveals the character of that being whose law it is. The law of God proceeds from God’s being and reflects His character. When the psalmist speaks of his affection for the law, he makes no division between the law of God and the Word of God. Just as the Christian loves the Word of God, so we ought to love the law of God, for the Word of God is indeed the law of God.
The second reason why the psalmist has such a positive view of the law is that the law, by revealing God’s character, exposes our fallenness. It is the mirror that reflects our own images — warts and all — and becomes the pedagogue, the schoolmaster that drives us to Christ. The law does not drive us out of the kingdom but it ushers us into the kingdom by directing us to the One who alone is able to fulfill its demands.
God’s law also is a guide for us. The psalmist calls it “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (119:105). The imagery here suggests a person walking on a narrow path on a moonless night, groping in the dark to find the correct way. A wrong turn could result in a fall from a precipice or tripping into painful brambles. But the law serves as a lamp to show us where we should place our feet as we walk. It shows us how not to stray into the way of destruction. In that respect, the law with its light grants wisdom to one who meditates upon it. By this wisdom, we discern what righteousness is and what is the right thing to do in the complex situations of our lives. The light that shines from the law reveals the snares that have been set in our pathway by the enemy and gives us the wisdom to avoid them. It becomes a hiding place, a shield, and the source of our hope.
The law also acts as a restraint upon us. Our nature in the fall is one of lawlessness. The power of conversion rescues us from bondage to sin, but it does not deliver us from all temptations. We need the restraint of law to keep our sinful impulses and fallen inclinations in check. In this regard, we may use the metaphor of the bridle. The bridle and the bit are put on the horse so that the horse can be kept from running wildly into destruction. Speed limits on the highway do not stop speeding, but they do produce a certain restraint to keep impulses under control.
The most wonderful function of the law, however, is that it shows us what is pleasing to God. The godly man is the one who mediates on the law day and night (Ps. 1:2), and he does so because he finds his delight therein. By delighting in the precepts of God, he becomes like a tree planted by rivers of living water, bringing forth its fruit in its season (Ps. 1:3). Our Lord said, “If you love Me keep My commandments” (John 14:15), but we cannot show that love for Him unless we know what the commandments are. A knowledge of the law of God gives to us the pattern of loving obedience. If we love the Lord, we must also love His law. To love God and despise His law is a contradiction that must never be the profile of the Christian. The psalmist says that God hates the double-minded man, and the doubleminded man says that he loves God while at the same time he eschews the law of the Lord (Ps. 119:113). The psalmist says that the precepts, judgments, and testimonies of God are wonderful because they keep the soul and they preserve us from sins dragging us back into slavery and dominion (v. 129). The law in this regard is redemptive — not that we find our redemption by keeping the law, but that the Redeemer is shown to us through the law.
Finally, the psalmist says, “Your word is very pure; Therefore your servant loves it” (v. 140, NKJV). Those things that are pure, that are perfect, are worthy objects of our affection. All of these functions of the law are seen in the sweetness and the loveliness of the law that God reveals. He gives us His law not to take away our joy but rather that our joy may be full. His law is never given in a context of meanness but in the context of His love. We love the law of God because God loves His law and because that law is altogether lovely.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 3/1/2011
I’m on a diet. Oops. I’m not on a diet. I’m on a lifestyle change. This has led me to become acquainted with any number of new friends on my plate. I had, until now, heard of vegetables, but had never met any — or at least not any I’d like to invite over for dinner. The more surprising guest at my table, however, has been guilt. Before I went on this lifestyle change, I ate what I wanted. I knew I wasn’t as healthy as I would like to be, but I also took the view that whatever changes needed to be made wouldn’t be made on what I eat. I love food like some people love their pets.
My lifestyle change has changed my lifestyle. Now I have to find foods I like that won’t cause me to overspend my “points.” A nice bowl of ice cream or a hot plate of French fries is the equivalent of blowing the paycheck at the racetrack. When I eat well, I enjoy better-fitting clothes, compliments on my slimmer self, more energy, better sleep, and, best of all, I please my dear wife and children, who love me and want me to be around for decades to come. When I eat poorly, I lose all those benefits and gain both pounds and guilt.
What, then, is the proper motive? Some gurus remind us that we cannot change until we want the change for ourselves. Others encourage a kind of pragmatic calculus, saying that what drives us is net gains in the things we want and net losses in the things we don’t want. Still others encourage us to look outside ourselves, to do well for the sake of those whom we love.
God, from a certain perspective, isn’t terribly particular with respect to our motives. Inside the church there are those who argue that the right and heroic thing to do is the right and heroic thing because it is right and heroic. Spiritual maturity is measured on the Stoic scale. Others suggest that our driving goal must be simply — and alone — to please God. Still others, crasser still, take the view that we should do right in order to do well, that good things happen to those who do good. The thing is that the Bible presents all three motives before us.
Consider Moses’ parting sermon. Deuteronomy ends less with a long catalog of the grace of God in the lives of His people and more with a series of promised blessings and cursings. Moses, speaking the very words of God, is impenitently and flamboyantly crass — obey God and He will bless you in the city. He will bless you in the country. He’ll bless you when you are young and when you are old. He will, if you obey, bless your flocks, your household, your kneading bowl, and your wok. Your goldfish will have baby goldfish that all make the honor roll. Disobey God, on the other hand, and there is no end to how badly things will go. Your cell phone won’t work when your car breaks down in the middle of the traffic jam on your way to see that important client who holds your company’s future in his angry hands.
Jesus, on the other hand, from time to time seems to pick up on the Stoic theme. He reminds us that those who follow after Him must be prepared to pick up the cross. We have to consider the cost. We must deny ourselves. Later on, however, He reminds us that He came to give life abundant, that He is the Good Shepherd. As for His example, Jesus seemed driven by, more than anything else, a desire to delight His Father. He glorified the Father who was glorified in Him.
Is it possible that all these motives have their place? When Jesus commanded that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He told us more which direction to go and less what fuel to use to get there. That said, one motive should have no place with us — guilt. As we seek to grow in our obedience to His law, we must always do so mindful that we fail, mindful that Jesus alone succeeded, and mindful that He succeeded for us. God is through being angry with you. His wrath is gone forever, as far from you as the east is from the west. Fearing His anger, then, won’t be much of a goad toward the good.
Indeed, seeking to keep God’s law in order to keep at bay His wrath is evidence that we are indeed under the law and under His wrath. It is seeking the kingdom of God and our righteousness. Those foolish enough to go this way will spend eternity weeping and gnashing their teeth. Using God’s law to escape His wrath is like using His grace to escape His law — foolish, destructive, and counter-productive. This is how the Gentiles live.
Trust in Him because He commands it and, as Lord of heaven and earth, He is due our fealty and allegiance. Trust in Him because He delights when you do so. Even the angels in heaven rejoice. Trust in Him because at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. Trust in Him because He is altogether trustworthy. And all these things will be added unto you.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
Ministering by the Life-Giving Spirit
By David Hall 3/1/2011
Following a 1970s Jesus Movement conversion, I served in youth ministry, where I subjected poor students to nearly every fad imaginable — all, I told myself, to have young people come to Christ. I then served as a pastor, an office I have held for thirty years. Along the way, I have made many blunders — far too many to chronicle here. One mistake that I hope to avoid, however, is ministering with external methods that cannot give life.
Over the last thirty years, I have noticed a great reduction among my repertoire of ministerial gimmicks, while reliance on a smaller number of powerful tools has significantly increased. One thing I’m pretty sure of: this pastor has very little to offer other than God’s Word, and the effectiveness of that depends on the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is good for pastors to know that if our ministry of the Word is to have effect, it must have the Spirit’s anointing. In fact, we must become more aware of the fact that if our ministry is to glorify God, we must decrease as the Spirit’s work must increase.
What I have said reflects the teaching of the apostle Paul. He declared that “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). A grasp of this basic truth is important to our understanding of the law. It is also vital for ministry that lasts.
First, note that this verse puts to rest the idea that heeding every formula, jot, or tittle of the law can save. Obedience to the law was never intended to be understood as the way by which we gain a right standing with God. Paul repeatedly denied that we are justified by the law. He wrote, for example, “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Rom. 3:20) and we are “justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because no one will be justified by observing the law” (Gal. 2:16). He stated later: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law” (3:11). Paul consistently taught that being right with God is not accomplished by legal obedience or externalistic human performance.
Second, this text affirms that the Holy Spirit is a life-giving person. The Spirit can actually do something that no external method can: produce life. Here Paul describes how true ministry works, assuming implicitly that some ministry works and generates life, whereas other ministry produces lifelessness or death. Further, the means to these varying ultimate ends mirror the radical choices within this verse. Some accord with God’s truth; others do not.
Toward the beginning of 2 Corinthians 3, Paul raises several questions about authenticity. Does he need credentials or letters of commendation to be considered authentic? His answer is that the fruit of his authenticity is seen in the fruit of his disciples’ living Christianity. The Corinthian Christians were products of the Spirit’s life-giving work. Thus, the apostle needs no verification by “the letter.” Paul knew that Christ-transformed lives were far more lasting than ink or stone-chiseled characters.
Paul’s confidence is not in himself, his abilities, or his adherence to formula. He knows that life in the Spirit, unlike legalism, is not extinguishable; neither does he think of his own ministerial competence as derived from official letters. One verse (5) gleefully announces that God makes us sufficient, thus curing our deficiency. God brings our competency, in other words, out of the hole and all the way up to the adequate range.
Any minister who realizes his beginning deficiency will attempt to serve in the power of the Spirit, not the law. The apostle knew this and several other things besides. First, he knew that the letter could kill; that is, one could be outwardly correct but not produce life. Second, he knew that the Spirit generates or cultures life. Third, it is life, the abundant kind that Jesus offered (John 10:10), which the Spirit gives.
With such confidence, Paul was able to face floggings, misunderstandings, shipwrecks, betrayals, and varieties of abuse. He knew that the surpassing greatness of serving Christ and the working of the Spirit was better than relying on human accomplishments.
In like manner, having known that his abilities were “altogether useless,” John Calvin declared that God’s grace, not law-keeping, qualified him “for an office, for which he was previously unqualified.” The contrast here is between an outward-only ministry of the Word versus one that reaches inward and changes hearts, which subsequently reflect behaviors that conform to God’s law.
The Spirit is powerful; He does change lives. Whether it is in counseling, mentoring, evangelism, missions, childrearing, or preaching, we must beg God to send His life-giving Spirit who quickens the Word.
Don’t we need a reformation of lifegiving ministry? And whether respecting the civil, pedagogical, or didactic use of the law, the Spirit should always be sought to give life.
David Hall Books:
- 1 Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici: The Divine Right of Church Government (17th century Presbyterians)
- 2 A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes: Essays and Analysis, Paperback Edition (Calvin 500)
- 3 Did God Create in 6 Days?
- 4 Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights and Civil Liberties (Calvin 500)
- 5 Calvin and Commerce: The Transforming Power of Calvinism in Market Economies (Calvin 500) (The Calvin 500 Series)
- 6 A Heart Promptly Offered: The Revolutionary Leadership of John Calvin (Leaders in Action)
- 7 Preaching Like Calvin: Sermons from the 500th Anniversary Celebration (Calvin 500) (The Calvin 500 Series)
- 8 Windows on Westminster: A Look at the Men, the Work and the Enduring Results of the Westminster Assembly (1643 - 1648)
- 9 Paradigms in Polity: Classic Readings in Reformed and Presbyterian Church Government
- 10 The Legacy of John Calvin: His Influence on the Modern World (Calvin 500)
- 11 A Manual for Officer Training
- 12 Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview (Calvin 500)
- 13 The Practice of Confessional Subscription
- 14 Welfare Reformed: A Compassionate Approach
- 15 The Arrogance of the Modern: Historical Theology Held in Contempt
- 16 Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of His Quincentenary (Calvin 500)
- 17 The Millennium of Jesus Christ: An Exposition of Revelation for All Ages
- 18 To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th Anniversary of the Westminister Assembly
- 19 Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights and Civil Liberties (Calvin 500)
- 20 The Millennium of Jesus Christ: An Exposition of Revelation for All Ages
- 21 Election Sermons
- 22 A Manual for Officer Training
- 23 Election Day Sermons
- 24 Holding Fast to Creation
- 25 The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding
- 26 Savior or Servant? Putting Government in Its Place
- 27 Lux: Essays on Calvin and Calvinism
- 28 Post Tenebrae: Essays on Calvin and Calvinism
- 29 Lectures on Integrity: A Review of Confessional Subscription as an Aid for Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy
- 30 Summer Reading: Christian Classics
- 31 Declaring Independence
- 32 The Grasses of Florida
- 33 Questioning Politics: Five Essential Queries for Believers to Ask and Answer
- 34 The Westminster Assembly: A Guide to Basic Bibliography
Listening Before Answering
By John Piper 3/1/2011
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13). It is arrogant to answer before you hear. Humility does not presume that it knows precisely what a person is asking until the questioner has finished asking the question. How many times have I jumped to a wrong conclusion by starting to formulate my answer before I heard the whole question! Often it is the last word in the question that turns the whole thing around and makes you realize that the questioner is not asking what you thought he was.
It is rude to answer a half-asked question. Rude is a useful word for Christians. It means “ill-mannered, discourteous.” The New Testament word for it is aschēmonei. It is used in 1 Corinthians 13:5, where modern versions translate it, “Love is not rude,” but the old King James Version has, “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.” This means that love not only follows absolute moral standards, but also takes cultural mores, habits, and customs into account. What is polite? What is courteous? What are good manners? What is proper? What is good taste? What is suitable? Love is not indifferent to these. It uses them to express its humble desire for people’s good. One such politeness is listening well to a question before you answer.
Not answering a question before you hear it all honors and respects the person asking the question. It treats the person as though his words really matter. It is belittling to another to presume to be able to finish his question before he does.
Careful listening to a question often reveals that the question has several layers and is really more than one question. Several questions are all mixed into one. When you see this, you can break the question down into parts and answer them one at a time. You will not see such subtleties if you are hasty with your answer and not careful in your listening.
A question sometimes reveals assumptions that you do not share. If you try to answer the question on the basis of your assumptions without understanding the questioner’s assumptions, you will probably speak right past him. If you listen carefully and let the person finish, you may discern what he is assuming that you do not. Then you can probe these assumptions before you answer. Often, when dealing at this level, the question answers itself. It was really about these deeper differences.
Questions usually have attitudes as well as content. The attitude sometimes tells you as much as the content about what is really being asked. In fact, the attitude may tell you that the words being used in this question are not what the question is about. When that is discerned, we should not make light of the words, but seriously ask questions to see if the attitude and the words are really asking the same question. If not, which is the one the questioner really wants answered?
Questions have context that you need to know. Many thoughts, circumstances, and feelings may be feeding into this question that we don’t know about or understand. Careful listening may help you pick up those things. It may be that there is just a small clue that some crucial circumstance is behind the question. If you catch the clue, because you are listening carefully, you may be able to draw that out and be able to answer the question much more helpfully.
Questions are made up of words. Words have meanings that are formed by a person’s experience and education. These words may not carry the same meaning for both you and the questioner. If you want to answer what he is really asking, you must listen very carefully. When the possibility exists that his question is rooted in a different understanding of a word, you will be wise to talk about the meaning of the words before you talk about the answer to the question. I find that talking about the definitions of words in questions usually produces the answers to the questions.
Proverbs 18:13 says it is our “folly” to answer before we hear. That is, it will make us a fool. One reason for this is that almost all premature answers are based on thinking we know all we need to know. But that is “foolish.” Our attitude should be: What can I learn from this question? The fool thinks he knows all he needs to know.
And finally Proverbs 18:13 says that it is our “shame” to answer before we hear. What if you are asked publicly, “My wife and I have had serious problems and we were wondering …,” and you cut the questioner off by giving your answer about the value of counseling and what counselors might be helpful. But then he says, “Well, actually, what I was going to say was, ‘My wife and I have had serious problems and we were wondering, now that our counseling is over and things are better than ever, how you would suggest that we celebrate?’” Then you will be shamed for not listening.
I’m still learning to listen with you.
John Piper Books | Go to Books Page
What’s Wrong with Wright: Examining the New Perspective on Paul
By Phil Johnson
My assignment in this hour is to give a critical review of an influential book by Anglican author N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham. The book is titled What Saint Paul Really Said. It’s a fairly thin paperback, fewer than 200 pages, and although Wright is a prolific writer, best known and most influential because of his massive scholarly works, this little book—which is written in a simple style for the serious lay person—has undoubtedly been the most influential (and perhaps the most controversial) of all his published works. One of its aims is to explain the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” in a clear and concise format so that lay readers can grasp the main ideas.
The book is easy to read and thought-provoking. Wright is a gifted writer. He is able to communicate effortlessly on either a scholarly or a popular level, and he moves back and forth easily between the two styles. He seems to feel as much at home writing simple material for lay people as he does when he writes massive tomes for scholars. And he’s prolific. It’s no easy task to keep up with everything Tom Wright publishes.
His style in this book is warm and winsome. He no doubt anticipated that he would have critics when he wrote the book, so throughout the book he makes every effort to disarm his critics. He seems to labor to leave the impression throughout the book that even though he subscribes to a “New Perspective on Paul,” he’s not trying to overthrow the old Protestant confessional doctrinal standards. He claims he is not denying that Christ took believers’ sins and they in turn get His righteousness; he’s simply saying that’s not what the apostle Paul meant when he spoke about justification. Wright claims his concerns are biblical and exegetical, not theological and dogmatic.
Evangelical readers who know Wright’s reputation are likely to read him with great sympathy. In his other works, Wright has skillfully defended the historicity of Jesus and the truth of the resurrection against the skepticism and liberal scholarship of people like the “Jesus Seminar.” Lots of evangelicals know Wright best from his excellent work in this realm of scholarly apologetics, and we do owe him a great debt for the clarity and force with which he has answered the left wing of contemporary scholarship.
Tom Wright’s name and face have become recognized throughout the United Kingdom, mainly because of his frequent appearances on the BBC—where he usually takes the conservative side against the radical skeptics in the scholarly world. People who know him from the popular media usually assume that Tom Wright’s evangelical credentials are impeccable. And (let’s face it) he probably does have much more in common with evangelicalism than the average Anglican bishop these days.
Rev. Phil Johnson is executive director of Grace to You, pastor of GraceLife Fellowship, and an elder at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 80Restore Us, O God
80 To The Choirmaster: According To Lilies. A Testimony. Of Asaph, A Psalm.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
2 Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
stir up your might
and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
4 O LORD God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
By John Walvoord
A Lament for the Princes of Israel
Ezekiel 19:1–14. In a way similar to prophecy and fulfillment being pictured by symbols in the previous chapters, this section is a formal dirge, such as was customarily used for a funeral. In this case the prophet used it as a lament for the nation Israel and Jerusalem.
A lioness is pictured as rearing a cub that became strong but was trapped and taken to the land of Egypt (vv. 1–4 ). This probably referred to Jehoahaz, who was taken in captivity to Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 23:31–34; Jer. 22:11–12 ).
The second cub probably referred to Zedekiah, who was carried off to Babylon ( Ezek. 19:5–9; cf. 2 Kings 25:7 ). At the time Ezekiel wrote this, the reference to Zedekiah was still a prediction that was to later be fulfilled in 586 BC.
Israel, or Jerusalem, was then pictured as a vine, fruitful and with strong branches because of abundant waters ( Ezek. 19:10–11 ). The vine, however, “was uprooted in fury and thrown to the ground. The east wind made it shrivel, it was stripped of its fruit; its strong branches withered and fire consumed them” (v. 12 ). It was then portrayed as being planted in the desert and its branches consumed by fire (vv. 13–14 ). It should be noted that though the prophecy was given in symbolic form, it had a literal reference to prophecy or history, as the case may be.
Israel’s Past Rebellion
Ezekiel 20:1–29. When the elders of Israel came to inquire of the land, God instructed Ezekiel to tell them that first they had to review their many sins. God then recited their rebellion in the wilderness, their failure to keep God’s laws (vv. 8–10 ), and their desecration of the Sabbaths (vv. 12–13 ).
God declared, however, that He wanted to fulfill His promise of bringing them to the Promised Land (vv. 14–20 ).
Though God did not destroy Israel in the desert, He did predict that they would be scattered among the nations because of their sins (vv. 21–26 ). When they got to the Promised Land, they sued the high places for offering of sacrifices to idols (vv. 27–29 ).
Restoration after Judgment
Ezekiel 20:30–44. God indicated that the time would come when He would judge them and the righteous would enter into the Promised Land. This restoration, however, would not be extended to the elders who came to Ezekiel (vv. 30–32 ).
In the prophecy that follows (vv. 33–38 ), the far-reaching promise that God will regather the Israelites and restore them permanently to the land was detailed. This was a prophecy that was not fulfilled in the return from the Babylonian and Assyrian captivities.
God declared, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will rule over you with a mighty hand and an outreached arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you into the desert of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you. As I judged your fathers in the desert in the land of Egypt, so I will judge you, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD” (vv. 33–38 ).
This important prophecy was never fulfilled in the history of Israel and is connected to the judgments at the second coming. At that time all Israelites still living in the world will be gathered, but only those who belong to the godly remnant will be allowed to enter the land (vv. 36–38 ). The purpose of God to bring Israel eventually to their Promised Land and permanently settle them there is one of the great lines of prophecy, beginning with Genesis 12:7 and continuing throughout the Old Testament. This passage, however, is unique in describing in detail the purging separation of the saved from the unsaved at the beginning of the millennial kingdom and the regathering and planting of Israel in their ancient land. After Israel is regathered, they will remember their sins and serve the Lord (vv. 40–44 ). This future regathering of Israel will be in keeping with the new covenant revealed in Jeremiah 31:31–37.
Prophecy against the South
Ezekiel 20:45–49. Prophecy here is directed against Jerusalem and Israel, which was viewed as being toward the south. When the Babylonians came, they would come from the north and attack Israel to the south.
The south, called the Negev, is now a desert but is pictured here as being a forest that will be consumed by fire (vv. 45–47 ). Whether considered a literal fire or a symbolic prophecy of the destruction of Israel, God declared, “Everyone will see that I the LORD have kindled it; it will not be quenched” (v. 48 ). Ezekiel complained, however, that the people were saying that he was speaking in parables they did not understand (v. 49 ). The truth of the matter was they did not want to understand. This passage of judgment against the south was introductory to the prophecies of judgment in Ezekiel 21. This prophecy of judgment was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity ( 2 Chron. 36:11–15 ).
Babylon as the Sword of Divine Judgment
Ezekiel 21:1–27. God first declared that He had drawn a sword against Israel (vv. 1–7 ). This sword was described as sharpened and polished and made ready to kill (vv. 8–17 ).
Ezekiel was informed that God would supernaturally direct Babylon toward Jerusalem, giving them an omen to go in that direction (vv. 18–23 ).
God informed the king who was addressed, “O profane and wicked prince of Israel” (v. 25 ) that he should take off his crown because the leaders of Israel would be brought low and the lowly would be exalted. This was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity ( 2 Chron. 36:11–15 ).
Prophecy against Ammon
Ezekiel 21:28–32. The next prophecy was against the Ammonites because of their insults (vv. 28–29 ). God would pour out His wrath on them and they would be as fuel for fire (vv. 31–32 ).
The Ammonites were mentioned again in Ezekiel 25:1–10 but were not mentioned in Scripture after the sixth century BC. Today nothing remains of the Ammonite civilization except archaeological ruins, and no one identified as an Ammonite lives today.
The Continual Burnt Offering (Luke 22:31-32)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
July 31Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” ESV
Backsliding is never a sudden descent from intense spirituality to open sin. Declension is a gradual process, even as growth in grace is that which goes on day by day as one walks with God. The word “backslider” occurs only once in the Bible in Proverbs 14:14. We frequently find the term “backsliding,” though only in the books of Jeremiah and Hosea. Although these words are not found in the New Testament, we have many warnings against drifting from experiences once attained. Peter’s case is a solemn example of backsliding, and shows us how one wrong state or attitude leads to another, until at last one may fall into grave evil-doing and so bring great dishonor upon the name of the Lord whom we profess to love. Peter’s backsliding seems to have begun when he ventured to rebuke Jesus, who had just declared the necessity of going to the cross (Matthew 16:21-23). It was evidently the result of spiritual pride following the Savior’s commendation because of Peter’s great declaration as to the true nature of His glorious person. Though sternly rebuked, we do not read of any confession on Peter’s part, and sin unjudged leads inevitably to something worse as time goes on.
Proverbs 14:14 The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways,
and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
Thou lovest me! And yet Thy child
Is wayward, foolish, oft defiled;
Is slow to learn and dull to hold,
Quick to forget what Thou hast told;
In service feeble, seeking ease
Ofttimes, instead of Thee to please;
Thus poor my record e’er will be,
And yet, O God, Thou lovest me!
The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
14. The knowledge of God the Redeemer is obtained from the fall of man, and from the material cause of redemption.
15. In the fall of man, we must consider what he ought to be, and what he may be.
16. For he was created after the image of God; that is, he was made a partaker of the divine Wisdom, Righteousness, and Holiness, and, being thus perfect in soul and in body, was bound to render to God a perfect obedience to his commandments.
17. The immediate causes of the fall were--Satan, the Serpent, Eve, the forbidden fruit; the remote causes were--unbelief, ambition, ingratitude, obstinacy. Hence followed the obliteration of the image of God in man, who became unbelieving, unrighteous, liable to death.
18. We must now see what he may be, in respect both of soul and of body. The understanding of the soul in divine things, that is, in the knowledge and true worship of God, is blinder than a mole; good works it can neither contrive nor perform. In human affairs, as in the liberal and mechanical arts, it is exceedingly blind and variable. Now the will, so far as regards divine things, chooses only what is evil. So far as regards lower and human affairs, it is uncertain, wandering, and not wholly at its own disposal.
19. The body follows the depraved appetites of the soul, is liable to many infirmities, and at length to death.
20. Hence it follows that redemption for ruined man must be sought through Christ the Mediator; because the first adoption of a chosen people, the preservation of the Church, her deliverance from dangers, her recovery after dispersions, and the hope of the godly, always depended on the grace of the Mediator. Accordingly, the law was given, that it might keep their minds in suspense till the coming of Christ; which is evident from the history of a gracious covenant frequently repeated, from ceremonies, sacrifices, and washings, from the end of adoption, and from the law of the priesthood.
21. The material cause of redemption is Christ, in whom we must consider three things; 1. How he is exhibited to men; 2. How he is received; 3. How men are retained in his fellowship.
22. Christ is exhibited to men by the Law and by the Gospel.
23. The Law is threefold: Ceremonial, Judicial, Moral. The use of the Ceremonial Law is repealed, its effect is perpetual. The Judicial or Political Law was peculiar to the Jews, and has been set aside, while that universal justice which is described in the Moral Law remains. The latter, or Moral Law, the object of which is to cherish and maintain godliness and righteousness, is perpetual, and is incumbent on all.
24. The use of the Moral Law is threefold. The first use shows our weakness, unrighteousness, and condemnation; not that we may despair, but that we may flee to Christ. The second is, that those who are not moved by promises, may be urged by the terror of threatenings. The third is, that we may know what is the will of God; that we may consider it in order to obedience; that our minds may be strengthened for that purpose; and that we may be kept from falling.
25. The sum of the Law is contained in the Preface, and in the two Tables. In the Preface we observe, 1. The power of God, to constrain the people by the necessity of obedience; 2. A promise of grace, by which he declares himself to be the God of the Church; 3. A kind act, on the ground of which he charges the Jews with ingratitude, if they do not requite his goodness.
26. The first Table, which relates to the worship of God, consists of four commandments.
27. The design of the First Commandment is, that God alone may be exalted in his people. To God alone, therefore, we owe adoration, trust, invocation, thanksgiving.
28. The design of the Second Commandment is, that God will not have his worship profaned by superstitious rites. It consists of two parts. The former restrains our licentious daring, that we may not subject God to our senses, or represent him under any visible shape. The latter forbids us to worship any images on religious grounds, and, therefore, proclaims his power, which he cannot suffer to be despised,--his jealousy, for he cannot bear a partner,--his vengeance on children's children,--his mercy to those who adore his majesty.
29. The Third Commandment enjoins three things: 1. That whatever our mind conceives, or our tongue utters, may have a regard to the majesty of God; 2. That we may not rashly abuse his holy word and adorable mysteries for the purposes of ambition or avarice; 3. That we may not throw obloquy on his works, but may speak of them with commendatians of his Wisdom, Long-suffering, Power, Goodness, Justice. With these is contrasted a threefold profanation of the name of God, by perjury, unnecessary oaths, and idolatrous rites; that is, when we substitute in the place of God saints, or creatures animate or inanimate.
30. The design of the Fourth Commandment is, that, being dead to our own affections and works, we may meditate on the kingdom of God. Now there are three things here to be considered: 1. A spiritual rest, when believers abstain from their own works, that God may work in them; 2. That there may be a stated day for calling on the name of God, for hearing his word, and for performing religious rites; 3. That servants may have some remission from labour.
31. The Second Table, which relates to the duties of charity towards our neighbour, contains the last Six Commandments. The design of the Fifth Commandment is, that, since God takes pleasure in the observance of his own ordinance, the degrees of dignity appointed by him must be held inviolable. We are therefore forbidden to take anything from the dignity of those who are above us, by contempt, obstinacy, or ingratitude; and we are commanded to pay them reverence, obedience, and gratitude.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Embracing the Church’s Ministries
By Robert Jeffress 2023
Grocery shopping offers a window into people’s preferences. There are any number of products for which generic, lower-priced alternatives are perfectly fine. We have no problem compromising on them. In contrast, there are certain items that are sacrosanct. Only one brand or flavor will suffice. On these items, we will not compromise. We will not accept any substitutes.
What falls into the latter category for you? Is it a certain brand of peanut butter? A certain variety of apple? A certain flavor of ice cream?
What about church? How willing are you to accept substitutes when it comes to worship, biblical instruction, spiritual nourishment, and sharing your faith? How likely are you to seek alternative outlets for your spiritual gift?
The Lord established the church as sacrosanct for His people. Nothing can replace it. The church is uniquely positioned to make a difference not only in the world but also in our individual lives. Every God-honoring church supplies the four ministries I just mentioned — ministries that cannot be matched anywhere else: worship, instruction, nourishment, and sharing. We cannot fully appreciate the value of the church until we understand the seismic impact these four elements have in our lives.
Worship is expressing our praise and admiration to God for who He is and for all He has done in our lives. In Psalm 34:3, the psalmist said, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Corporate worship is Christians coming together to magnify the Lord — to make Him larger.
Psalm 34:3 (NASB95) O magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
In that sense, worship is a matter of adjusting our focus and perspective. Consider for a moment the difference in size between a nickel and the sun. The sun is the largest object in our solar system, billions of times bigger than an ordinary nickel. Yet you can place a nickel directly in front of each eye and completely block out the sun. At close range, the nickels fill your vision, making it impossible to see anything else.
The same thing happens with our daily problems. Every day, difficulties with our jobs, our families, our health, and a variety of other things fill our vision. They block our view of God because they seem much larger than they really are. The result is unnecessary stress, anxiety, and insecurity.
We need a time every week when we shift our focus and regain perspective. Instead of looking at our up - close - and - personal problems, we need to see God for who He really is. That’s what worship does for us. In my own life, worship is a source of spiritual refreshment. Every Sunday, no matter how stressful my week has been or how many problems I have been facing, I am refreshed by being with God’s people in the house of the Lord.
When we worship God, we’re focusing on Him rather than our problems. We’re thinking about His power, His wisdom, and His forgiveness. And the larger God becomes in our vision, the smaller our problems become. That’s why worship is vital. It’s a time for us to come together to focus on the greatness of God.
How To Get The Most From Worship
As with any other endeavor, the better you prepare for worship, the more you will take away from it. How do you prepare for worship? Get plenty of rest the night before so that you’re awake, alert, and ready to hear God speak. Before you do that, though, align your thoughts. Read a chapter from God’s Word before you go to bed. As you drift off to sleep, ask God to speak to you the next morning, to show you what He wants you to change in your life.
Make sure your mind is in drive rather than in neutral throughout the service. Actively voice your praise to God. Use the lyrics of the songs as your prayer to Him. Embrace the words of Jesus in John 4:23, and remind yourself that God is actively looking for people who will worship Him “in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23 (NASB95) “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
In Ephesians 4:11–13, Paul revealed God’s plan for the church: “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:11–13 (NASB95) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
The ultimate purpose of the church is to build up believers in such a way that we resemble Jesus Christ in all His fullness — in our actions, attitudes, and affections. That’s why God gives ministers to the church, to equip the saints for the work of service. A personal study of God’s Word is no substitute for sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. There are more commands in the New Testament to listen to the Word of God from a sound teacher than there are to study the Word for yourself.
God still works through His designated teachers in the church to instruct us. We need to be in a Bible - believing church, sitting under the preaching of those God has appointed to teach His Word. Without that, we are prone to biblical and doctrinal error that will lead us into the wrong kind of living.
In Acts 2:42, Luke described the early believers this way: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship.” These believers were so involved in one another’s lives that when one of them had a need, other Christians would sell what they had to meet that need. That’s what fellowship is: involvement in the needs of other believers. That involvement can take many forms. But we need to understand there are things other believers can do for us that we can’t do for ourselves.
Acts 2:42 (NASB95) They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
For one thing, other believers can challenge us when we’re complacent. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25). The Greek word translated as “stimulate” in this verse literally means “to provoke or to irritate.” When a grain of sand works its way into an oyster shell, it irritates the oyster. But something incredible results from the irritation: a pearl. A similar process happens in the church.
When we get together as believers, we ought to irritate, or stimulate, one another in a positive way to produce something good — namely, love and good deeds. One reason God puts us in the church is to initiate contact with Christians who have gifts we don’t have. That way, we can become familiar with those qualities and start to exercise them in our own lives.
For example, God wants us to be giving, so He puts us in contact with believers in the church who have the gift of giving — people whose example can encourage us. He wants us to be merciful, so He puts us in contact with believers who have the gift of mercy to show us how to comfort people in distress. We need to be around other Christians who will stimulate us to be more like Christ.
Another thing our fellow believers can do is encourage us when we’re discouraged. Unfortunately, many Christians allow the problems of life to drive them away from the church. In doing so, they play right into the hands of our enemy. One of Satan’s favorite tactics is to isolate us from other believers and then attack. If you’ve ever watched a documentary on the National Geographic Channel, then you know that whenever you see a scene of an animal getting separated from the herd, the next shot inevitably will be of a predator lurking nearby.
Solomon demonstrated his wisdom in Ecclesiastes 4 when he said, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. . . . And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” (vv. 9–10, 12). The more believers you have bound together, the harder it is to isolate and destroy them.
In the fellowship of the church, believers can pray for us when we’re going through difficult times. They can offer us encouraging words or a spiritual perspective. They can remind us we have an enemy who attempts to use our difficulties for his own purposes. We can’t get any of that if we’re isolated from other believers.
Our fellow believers also correct us when we stray. Sin can get a foothold in our lives if we’re the only ones who are aware of it. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive that sin can become. But when we spend time in fellowship with other Christians every week, we have people who can watch out for us and lovingly confront us when they see evidence of our straying. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” We need other believers to correct us if we begin to stray.
The description of the church in Acts 2:47 — “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” — shows that the early Christians weren’t content just to sit and soak up the Word of God. They realized the reason they were worshiping, receiving instruction, and being nourished in the church was so that they could take the gospel outside the church to unbelievers. And that’s exactly what they did.
According to Ephesians 4:12, the purpose of instruction is “equipping of the saints for the work of service.” The Greek word translated as “equipping” refers to loading a ship with supplies before it sets off on a long journey.
That’s God’s plan for the church. Every Sunday, your pastor gives you the supplies you need to go out and do ministry the rest of the week. God is building the spiritual structure of the church. And He’s not doing it beam upon beam or brick upon brick. He’s doing it life upon life. And He uses the church to accomplish that work.
The last word on this topic of sharing goes to Paul, who said in Philippians 2:15, “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” An individual believer appears as a single light in this dark world. And while one life can certainly point people to Christ, imagine what five hundred or five thousand lights shining together can do! That’s the power of the church.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
8/1/2015 Blessed Are the Persecuted
In 2004, I traveled to Iran with a delegation of Protestant Christians from the United States to meet with the vice president of the Iranian parliament. While in Iran, I preached at the Garden of Evangelism in Tehran, which was founded by the twentieth-century missionary William M. Miller. Over the following days, dozens of Iranian Christians told me stories of the many ways they had been persecuted. Many who had been converted to Christ from Islam had been disowned by their families, shunned and despised by their neighbors, or fired from their jobs. Some had been imprisoned, and one man’s father had even been executed. Many of my Iranian brothers and sisters expressed how they lived under the constant threat of persecution. Many told me how much they would love to live in the United States of America because it is a free country where Christians are not persecuted.
Although we in America are by no means under the same kind of persecution as Christians in Iran, we are beginning to face persecution in unprecedented ways. Many of the freedoms my father fought to defend in World War II are at risk of being stripped away from my children. America is changing rapidly. Following the path of Europe, we are entering a day in America wherein Bible-believing Christians are viewed as suspect and even as traitors to humanity. Relativistic tolerance has become America’s religion, and its dogma is tolerance for anything except Christian dogma. Someday, our grandchildren might find themselves admitting to foreign missionaries their desire to live in a free country where Christians are not persecuted.
As Christians of conviction, we will continue to fight for our constitutional freedoms. Yet, in the final analysis, we must always remember that ultimately we fight not against men but against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). Ultimately, we fight on our knees, praying for all who are in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:2). We are citizens of our nations, and we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As such, we can pray for national leaders even when we must vote against them. We pray for the persecuted and for our persecutors. We love our enemies while praying for their defeat—their coming to the end of themselves in repentance and faith (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 4:12–13).
In the face of persecution, we must not lose hope. We must not fear our enemies but fear the Lord as we stand our ground in the battle ahead. Jesus told us we would be persecuted, but He also told us He has overcome the world (Matt. 5:10–12; John 16:33). Regardless of whether we ever die as martyrs for our faith, we are all witnesses of Christ. Though they may imprison us, shun us, despise us, or kill us, they can never really hurt us. For we conquer by dying — humbly dying to self that we may, under any persecution our Lord sovereignly allows, boldly proclaim Christ and Him crucified. And when we are persecuted for Christ’s sake, not for being obnoxious, we can count ourselves blessed. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Christians are not so much in danger when they are persecuted as when they are admired.”
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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)
by Bill Federer
On his third voyage, Columbus sailed south along the east coast of Africa and was caught in the doldrums, a notorious condition of no winds and intense heat. After drifting aimlessly for eight days, the winds returned, but now they were running low on water. Columbus promised to name the first new land he discovered in honor of the Trinity. Sighting an island off the coast of Venezuela this day, July 31, 1498, which coincidentally had three peaks, he gave it the name Trinidad. There they obtained fresh water and in the process were the first Europeans to see South America.
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
To be at peace with God
is to be at peace with nature,
and to love God
is to see traces of him everywhere.
--- George H. Morrison
It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends.
But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy
is the quintessence of true religion.
The other is mere business.
--- Mohandas Gandhi
Impatience was one of Israel’s besetting sins, and God was helping them learn patient obedience; for it’s through ‘faith and patience’ that God’s people inherit what He has promised (Heb. 6:12). God is never in a hurry. He knows what He’s doing, and His timing is never off.
--- Warren Wiersbe
Be Strong (Joshua): Putting God's Power to Work in Your Life (The BE Series Commentary)
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
5. In the mean time, many of the principal men of the city were persuaded by Ananus, the son of Jonathan, and invited Cestius into the city, and were about to open the gates for him; but he overlooked this offer, partly out of his anger at the Jews, and partly because he did not thoroughly believe they were in earnest; whence it was that he delayed the matter so long, that the seditious perceived the treachery, and threw Ananus and those of his party down from the wall, and, pelting them with stones, drove them into their houses; but they stood themselves at proper distances in the towers, and threw their darts at those that were getting over the wall. Thus did the Romans make their attack against the wall for five days, but to no purpose. But on the next day Cestius took a great many of his choicest men, and with them the archers, and attempted to break into the temple at the northern quarter of it; but the Jews beat them off from the cloisters, and repulsed them several times when they were gotten near to the wall, till at length the multitude of the darts cut them off, and made them retire; but the first rank of the Romans rested their shields upon the wall, and so did those that were behind them, and the like did those that were still more backward, and guarded themselves with what they call Testudo, [the back of] a tortoise, upon which the darts that were thrown fell, and slided off without doing them any harm; so the soldiers undermined the wall, without being themselves hurt, and got all things ready for setting fire to the gate of the temple.
6. And now it was that a horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius 30 as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.
7. It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world. But when the robbers perceived this unexpected retreat of his, they resumed their courage, and ran after the hinder parts of his army, and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen; and now Cestius lay all night at the camp which was at Scopus; and as he went off farther next day, he thereby invited the enemy to follow him, who still fell upon the hindmost, and destroyed them; they also fell upon the flank on each side of the army, and threw darts upon them obliquely, nor durst those that were hindmost turn back upon those who wounded them behind, as imagining that the multitude of those that pursued them was immense; nor did they venture to drive away those that pressed upon them on each side, because they were heavy with their arms, and were afraid of breaking their ranks to pieces, and because they saw the Jews were light, and ready for making incursions upon them. And this was the reason why the Romans suffered greatly, without being able to revenge themselves upon their enemies; so they were galled all the way, and their ranks were put into disorder, and those that were thus put out of their ranks were slain; among whom were Priscus, the commander of the sixth legion, and Longinus, the tribune, and Emilius Secundus, the commander of a troop of horsemen. So it was not without difficulty that they got to Gabao, their former camp, and that not without the loss of a great part of their baggage. There it was that Cestius staid two days, and was in great distress to know what he should do in these circumstances; but when on the third day he saw a still much greater number of enemies, and all the parts round about him full of Jews, he understood that his delay was to his own detriment, and that if he staid any longer there, he should have still more enemies upon him.
8. That therefore he might fly the faster, he gave orders to cast away what might hinder his army's march; so they killed the mules and other creatures, excepting those that carried their darts and machines, which they retained for their own use, and this principally because they were afraid lest the Jews should seize upon them. He then made his army march on as far as Bethoron. Now the Jews did not so much press upon them when they were in large open places; but when they were penned up in their descent through narrow passages, then did some of them get before, and hindered them from getting out of them; and others of them thrust the hinder-most down into the lower places; and the whole multitude extended themselves over against the neck of the passage, and covered the Roman army with their darts. In which circumstances, as the footmen knew not how to defend themselves, so the danger pressed the horsemen still more, for they were so pelted, that they could not march along the road in their ranks, and the ascents were so high, that the cavalry were not able to march against the enemy; the precipices also and valleys into which they frequently fell, and tumbled down, were such on each side of them, that there was neither place for their flight, nor any contrivance could be thought of for their defense; till the distress they were at last in was so great, that they betook themselves to lamentations, and to such mournful cries as men use in the utmost despair: the joyful acclamations of the Jews also, as they encouraged one another, echoed the sounds back again, these last composing a noise of those that at once rejoiced and were in a rage. Indeed, things were come to such a pass, that the Jews had almost taken Cestius's entire army prisoners, had not the night come on, when the Romans fled to Bethoron, and the Jews seized upon all the places round about them, and watched for their coming out [in the Morning].
9. And then it was that Cestius, despairing of obtaining room for a public march, contrived how he might best run away; and when he had selected four hundred of the most courageous of his soldiers, he placed them at the strongest of their fortifications, and gave order, that when they went up to the Morning guard, they should erect their ensigns, that the Jews might be made to believe that the entire army was there still, while he himself took the rest of his forces with him, and marched, without any noise, thirty furlongs. But when the Jews perceived, in the Morning, that the camp was empty, they ran upon those four hundred who had deluded them, and immediately threw their darts at them, and slew them; and then pursued after Cestius. But he had already made use of a great part of the night in his flight, and still marched quicker when it was day; insomuch that the soldiers, through the astonishment and fear they were in, left behind them their engines for sieges, and for throwing of stones, and a great part of the instruments of war. So the Jews went on pursuing the Romans as far as Antipatris; after which, seeing they could not overtake them, they came back, and took the engines, and spoiled the dead bodies, and gathered the prey together which the Romans had left behind them, and came back running and singing to their metropolis; while they had themselves lost a few only, but had slain of the Romans five thousand and three hundred footmen, and three hundred and eighty horsemen. This defeat happened on the eighth day of the month Dius, [Marchesvan,] in the twelfth year of the reign of Nero.
The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
by D.H. Stern
and the borrower is slave to the lender.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
by Frank W. Boreham
"Will you go with me?"
'"No, indeed; you must go alone. I shall not appear at all."
I came across the above passage near the beginning of one of Myrtle Reed's stories— The Master's Violin —and, towards the end, I found this:
'"Iris, I have been miserable ever since I told you I wrote the letters."
And then, in quite another book— Maurice Thompson's Sweetheart Manette —I came upon this: '"Why can't you tell me?" asked Rowland Hatch.
'"I don't know that I have the right," replied Manette.
Now, that word 'because' is very interesting. 'It is a woman's reason,' Miss Reed confides to us. That may, or may not, be so. I know nothing about that. It is not my business. I only know that it is the oldest reason, and the safest reason, and by far the strongest.
Now, really, no man can say why. As Miss Reed says in another passage lying midway between the two quoted: 'We all do things for which we can give no reason.' We do them because. No man can say why he prefers coffee to cocoa, or mutton to beef. He likes the one better than the other because. No man can say why he chose his profession. He decided to be a doctor or a carpenter because. No man can say why he fell in love with his wife. It would be an affectation to pretend that she is really incomparably superior to all other women upon the face of the earth. And yet to him she is not only incomparably superior, and incomparably lovelier, and incomparably nobler, but she is absolutely the one and only woman on the planet or off it. No other swims into the field of vision. She is first, and every other woman is nowhere. Why? 'Because!' There is no other reason.
The fact is that we get into endless confusion when we sail out into the dark, mysterious seas that lie beyond that 'because.' Nine times out of ten our conclusions are unassailable. And nine times out of ten our reasons for reaching those conclusions are absurdly illogical, totally inadequate, or grossly mistaken. Everybody remembers the fable of the bantam cock who assured the admiring farmyard that the sun rose every morning because of its anxiety to hear him crow! The fact was indisputable; the sun did certainly rise every morning. It was only at the attempt to ascribe a specific reason for its rising that the argument broke down. It is always safer to say that the sun rises every morning because. Ministers at least will recall the merriment that Hugh Latimer made of Master More. The good man had been appointed to investigate the cause of the Goodwin Sands. He met with small success in his inquiries. At last he came upon an old man who had lived in the district nearly a hundred years. The centenarian knew. The secret sparkled in his eyes. Master More approached the prodigy. 'Yes, sir,' the old man answered, 'I know. Tenterden Steeple is the cause of Goodwin Sands! I remember when they built the steeple. Before that we never heard of sands, or flats, or shallows off this haven. They built the steeple, and then came the sands. Yes, sir, Tenterden Steeple is the cause of the destruction of Sandwich Harbour!'
When we wander beyond that wise word 'because' circumstances seem malicious; they conspire to deceive us. I remember passing a window in London in which a sewing-machine was displayed. The machine was working. A large doll sat beside it, its hand on the wheel. The doll's hand appeared to be turning the handle. As a matter of fact, the machine was electrically driven, and the wheel turned the hand of the doll. In the realm of cause and effect we are frequently the dupes and victims of a very dexterous system of legerdemain. The resultant quantity is invariably clear; the contributing causes are not what they seem.
I find myself believing to-day pretty much what I believed twenty years ago; but I find myself believing the same things for different reasons. As life goes on, a man learns to put more and more confidence in his conclusions, and to become more and more chary of the reasons that led to those conclusions. If a certain course seems to him to be right, he automatically adopts it, and he confidently persists in it even after the reasons that first dictated it have fallen under suspicion. 'More than once in an emergency at sea,' says Dr. Grenfell, the hero of Labrador, 'I have swiftly decided upon a certain line of action. If I had waited to hem my reason into a corner before adopting that course, I should not be here to tell the tale.' We often flatter ourselves that we base our conclusions upon our reasons. In reality, we do nothing of the kind. The mind works so rapidly that it tricks us. It is another case of legerdemain. Once more, it is the machine that turns the doll, and not the doll that turns the machine. Our thinking faculties often play at ride-a-cock-horse. We recall Browning's lines:
When I see boys ride-a-cock-horse,
I find it in my heart to embarrass them
By hinting that their stick's a mock horse,
And they really carry what they say carries them.
The rugged truth is, that we first of all reach our conclusions. That is the starting-point. Then, amazed at our own temerity in doing so, we hasten to tack on a few reasons as a kind of apology to ourselves for our own intrepidity, a tardy concession to intellectual decency and good order. But whether we recognize it or not, we do most things because. As Pascal told us long ago, 'the heart has reasons which the reason does not know. It is the heart that feels God, not the reason.' When old Samuel Wesley lay dying in 1735, he turned to his illustrious son John, saying: 'The inward witness, son, the inward witness! That is the proof, the strongest proof of Christianity!' 'I did not at the time understand him,' says John, in quoting the words with approval long afterwards. But the root of the whole matter lies just there.
My reference to Dr. Grenfell reminds me. The good doctor was questioned the other day as to his faith in immortality. 'I believe in it,' he replied, 'because I believe in it. I am sure of it, because I am sure of it.' Precisely! That is the point. We believe because. And then, on our sure faith, we pile up a stupendous avalanche of Christian evidences. Emerson tells us of two American senators who spent a quarter of a century searching for conclusive evidence of the immortality of the soul. And Emerson finishes the story by saying that the impulse which prompted their long search was itself the strongest proof that they could have had. Of course! Although they knew it not, they already believed. They believed because. And then, finding their faith naked, and feeling ashamed, they set out to beg, borrow, or steal a few rags of reasons with which to deck it. It is the problem of Professor Teufelsdrockh and Sartor Resartus over again. It all comes back to Carlyle's 'Everlasting Yea.' The shame is mock modesty; and the craving is a false one. A woman's reason is the best reason. As the years go by, we become less and less eager for evidence. We are content to believe because. 'I was lately looking out of my window,' Martin Luther wrote from Coburg to a friend, 'and I saw the stars in the heavens, and God's great beautiful arch over my head, but I could not see any pillars on which the great Builder had fixed this arch; and yet the heavens fell not, and the great arch stood firmly. There are some who are always feeling for the pillars, and longing to touch them. And, because they cannot touch them, they stand trembling, and fearing lest the heavens should fall. If they could only grasp the pillars, then the heavens would stand fast.'
'"But how do you know that there is any Christ? You never saw Him!" said poor Augustine St. Clare, the slave-owner, to Uncle Tom, the slave.
'"I feel it in my soul, mas'r—feel Him now! Oh, mas'r, the blessed Lord Jesus loves you!"
'"But how do you know that, Tom?" said St. Clare.
'"I feels it in my soul, mas'r; oh, mas'r, the love of Christ that passeth knowledge."
'"But, Tom, you know that I have a great deal more knowledge than you; what if I should tell you that I don't believe your Bible? Wouldn't that shake your faith some, Tom?"
'"Not a grain, mas'r!" And St. Clare felt himself borne, on the tide of Tom's faith and feeling, almost to the gate of heaven.
'"I like to hear you, Tom; and some time I'll talk more."'
Uncle Tom's argument was the strongest and most convincing after all; if only all we arguers, and debaters, and controversialists could come to recognize it. He believed because. And, now that I come to think of it, Miss Myrtle Reed is wrong in calling it a woman's reason. It is a divine argument, the oldest, and sweetest, and strongest of all divine arguments. I said just now that a man loves a woman just because he loves her, and he could not in a thousand volumes give an intelligent and convincing explanation of his preference. And—let me say it in a hushed and reverent whisper—God loves in much the same way. Listen, and let me read: 'The Lord did not set His love upon you because ye were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you!' He loved because He loved. He loved because.
I intend, therefore, to proclaim the magnificent verities of the Christian gospel. I shall talk with absolute certainty, and with unwavering confidence, about the sin of man, the love of God, the Cross of Christ. If my message is met with a 'why' or a 'wherefore,' I have only one reply—'Because!' There is nothing else to be said. The preacher lives to tell a wonderful love-story. And a love-story is never arguable. 'God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son!' Why? Because!
Mushrooms on the Moor (Dodo Press)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Till you are entirely His
Let your endurance be a finished product, so that you may be finished and complete, with never a defect.
--- James 1:4 (Moffatt).
Many of us are all right in the main, but there are some domains in which we are slovenly. It is not a question of sin, but of the remnants of the carnal life which are apt to make us slovenly. Slovenliness is an insult to the Holy Ghost. There should be nothing slovenly, whether it be in the way we eat and drink, or in the way we worship God.
Not only must our relationship to God be right, but the external expression of that relationship must be right. Ultimately God will let nothing escape, every detail is under His scrutiny. In numberless ways God will bring us back to the same point over and over again. He never tires of bringing us to the one point until we learn the lesson, because He is producing the finished product. It may be a question of impulse, and again and again, with the most persistent patience, God has brought us back to the one particular point; or it may be mental wool-gathering, or independent individuality. God is trying to impress upon us the one thing that is not entirely right.
We have been having a wonderful time this Session over the revelation of God’s Redemption, our hearts are perfect towards Him; His wonderful work in us makes us know that in the main we are right with Him; now, says the Spirit, through St. James, “Let your endurance be a finished product.” Watch the slipshod bits—‘Oh, that will have to do for now.’ Whatever it is, God will point it out with persistence until we are entirely His.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
God looked at space and I appeared,
Rubbing my eyes at what I saw.
The earth smoked, no birds sang;
There were no footprints on the beaches
Of the hot sea, no creatures in it.
God spoke. I hid myself in the side
of the mountain.
As though born again
I stepped out into the cool dew,
Trying to remember the fire sermon,
Astonished at the mingled chorus
Of weeds and flowers. In the brown bark
Of the trees I saw the many faces
Of life, forms hungry for birth,
Mouthing at me. I held my way
To the light, inspecting my shadow
Boldly; and in the late Morning
You, rising towards me out of the depths
Of myself. I took your hand,
Remembering you, and together,
Confederates of the natural day,
We went forth to meet the Machine.
In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Alice challenges Humpty Dumpty on his use of a particular word.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
At first glance our Midrash seems simple enough. The Rabbis point out that sometimes the Bible uses the word “tomorrow” and means it literally, and other times it uses the same word more generally. But on a deeper level, the Midrash is warning us: Things aren’t always what they appear to be; words don’t always mean what we think they do.
George Orwell, in his classic novel 1984, showed us what can happen when sinister, instead of silly, individuals become masters of words. Orwell describes “Newspeak,” created by the State to control the individual. The ultimate examples of this new language are the three banners that are found everywhere in Oceania: “War Is Peace.” “Freedom Is Slavery.” “Ignorance Is Strength.” Totalitarianism begins, we are reminded, not with tanks rolling down Main Street but with the control of the printed and spoken word.
Newspeak is fiction, but in many realms of modern life a similar retooling of our language has already taken place. The military has created its own parlance whose purpose is to hide the realities and horrors of war from the public. We no longer hear about “battlefields”; instead, military spokesmen talk about the “theater of operations.” We are told that there was “significant collateral damage,” a euphemistic way of saying that a lot of innocent people were killed when a bomb missed its target. We can’t question or criticize what our government is doing if we don’t understand what it is that they are telling us.
Our Midrash is teaching: Be careful with words, even with those that appear to be simple and obvious; they may mean something entirely different from what we think. Do not accept them at face value. Look beneath the surface, check the context, investigate the source. Be sure that the speaker and the listener share a common lexicon—and a common agenda.
Don’t take language for granted; take it seriously. And do it today. “Tomorrow” may be too late.
Sometimes, we promise to do something “tomorrow,” and we take that very literally. When we don’t do it tomorrow—the letter we were going to write, the phone call we had to make, that important project—then we get angry, upset. We may say, “I didn’t do it when I was supposed to, and it’ll never get done.” But there are many meanings to the word “tomorrow.” It can mean “the day after today,” but it can also mean “in the future, at some later date.”
One of the best known songs of Naomi Shemer, Israel’s greatest modern composer, is מָחָר/“Maḥar,” “Tomorrow.” Composed in 1967 in the wake of the Six-Day War, that song speaks of the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of the modern Israeli, all of which will be achieved “tomorrow.”
Tomorrow when the army takes off its uniforms
Our hearts will turn silent.
After, each person will build with his own two hands
What he dreamed today.
All this is not a fable or a dream.
It’s clear as the afternoon light.
All this will happen tomorrow if not today
And if not tomorrow, then the day after.
Israel has been able to achieve such success in so many areas—agriculture, finance, culture—because the society has said, “We’ll aim to do this today, and if not today, then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then at the very latest the day after tomorrow.” This ideology is reflected in the Hebrew word מָחֳרָתַיִם/moḥoratayim, translated in the Naomi Shemer song as “the day after” or “two days from now” (a doubled form of מָחָר/maḥar, “tomorrow”).
Putting off to tomorrow should not be an excuse to procrastinate. Rather, it should give us the ability to carry out long-range projects in the future—if not tomorrow, then during the tomorrows that follow after.
Delight yourself in the LORD.
Delight yourself in the LORD.
--- Psalm 37:4.
[This delight in prayer] is a delight in God, who is the object of prayer. Works of Stephen Charnock (5 Volume Set) The glory of God—communion with him, enjoyment of him—is the great goal of believers in their prayers. Such delight in prayer is only a spark of the delight that the soul has in the object of prayer. God is the center, in whom the soul rests, and the goal that the soul aims at. According to our perceptions of God are our desires for him; when we see him as the chief good, we will desire him and delight in him as the chief good. There must first be a delight in God before there can be a spiritual delight or a constancy in duty. Delight is a grace, and, as faith, desire, and love have God for their object, so does this. And according to the strength of our delight in the object or purpose is the strength of our delight in the means of attainment. When we delight in God as glorious, we will delight to honor him; when we regard him as good, we will delight to pursue and enjoy him and delight in that which brings us into communion with him. Those who rejoice in God will rejoice in every approach to him. “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). The more joy in God, the more strength to go to him. The lack of this is the reason of our snail-like motion to him. We have no sweet thoughts of God and therefore no mind to converse with him. We cannot judge our delight in prayer to be right if we do not have a delight in God—natural men and women may have a delight in prayer when they have corrupt and selfish ends. They may have a delight in a duty as it is a means, according to their understanding, to gain their purpose, as Balaam and Balak offered their sacrifice cheerfully, hoping to ingratiate themselves with God and to have liberty to curse his people.
--- Stephen Charnock
The Blessed Tie July 31
John Fawcett was converted as a teenager listening to George Whitefield. He joined the Baptists and was ordained on July 31, 1765. He began pastoring a poor church in Wainsgate, finding time here and there for writing. His writings spread abroad, and the little church feared they would lose their pastor to a larger place. Fawcett wondered the same thing, lamenting in his diary that his family was growing faster than his income.
The call came from London’s famous Carter’s Lane Church. “Think of it!” Fawcett told his wife. “They want us in London to take the place of the late Dr. Gill at that great church! It’s almost unbelievable!” The following Sunday he broke the news to his church, then began packing. Books, dishes, pictures, and furniture were crated for the overland journey to the world’s largest city. When the day of departure came, church members assembled and bravely tried to hold their tears. Finally everything was loaded but one box, and Fawcett entered the house to retrieve it. There he found his wife deep in thought. “John,” she said, voice breaking, “do you think we’re doing the right thing? Will we ever find a congregation to love us and help us with the Lord’s work like this group here?”
“Do you think we’ve been too hasty in this?” John asked.
“Yes. I think we should stay right here and serve these people.”
John was silent a moment, for his heart, too, had been breaking. He nodded. “I was so overjoyed when the call came that I never really prayed about it like a minister should.”
They walked onto the porch, called the people together, revealed their change of heart, and amid joyous tears unloaded their wagons. Fawcett stayed at Wainsgate the rest of his life. But not in obscurity. Out of this experience, he wrote the world-famous hymn:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
I pray that your love will keep on growing and that you will fully know and understand how to make the right choices. Then you will still be pure and innocent when Christ returns. And until that day, Jesus Christ will keep you busy doing good deeds that bring glory and praise to God.
--- Philippians 1:9,10.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - July 31
“I in them.” --- John 17:23.
If such be the union which subsists between our souls and the person of our Lord, how deep and broad is the channel of our communion! This is no narrow pipe through which a thread-like stream may wind its way, it is a channel of amazing depth and breadth, along whose glorious length a ponderous volume of living water may roll its floods. Behold he hath set before us an open door, let us not be slow to enter. This city of communion hath many pearly gates, every several gate is of one pearl, and each gate is thrown open to the uttermost that we may enter, assured of welcome. If there were but one small loophole through which to talk with Jesus, it would be a high privilege to thrust a word of fellowship through the narrow door; how much we are blessed in having so large an entrance! Had the Lord Jesus been far away from us, with many a stormy sea between, we should have longed to send a messenger to him to carry him our loves, and bring us tidings from his Father’s house; but see his kindness, he has built his house next door to ours, nay, more, he takes lodging with us, and tabernacles in poor humble hearts, that so he may have perpetual intercourse with us. O how foolish must we be, if we do not live in habitual communion with him. When the road is long, and dangerous, and difficult, we need not wonder that friends seldom meet each other, but when they live together, shall Jonathan forget his David? A wife may when her husband is upon a journey, abide many days without holding converse with him, but she could never endure to be separated from him if she knew him to be in one of the chambers of her own house. Why, believer, dost not thou sit at his banquet of wine? Seek thy Lord, for he is near; embrace him, for he is thy Brother. Hold Him fast, for he is thine Husband; and press him to thine heart, for he is of thine own flesh.
Evening - July 31
“And these are the singers … they were employed in that work day and night.” --- 1 Chronicles 9:33.
Well was it so ordered in the temple that the sacred chant never ceased: for evermore did the singers praise the Lord, whose mercy endureth for ever. As mercy did not cease to rule either by day or by night, so neither did music hush its holy ministry. My heart, there is a lesson sweetly taught to thee in the ceaseless song of Zion’s temple, thou too art a constant debtor, and see thou to it that thy gratitude, like charity, never faileth. God’s praise is constant in heaven, which is to be thy final dwelling-place, learn thou to practise the eternal hallelujah. Around the earth as the sun scatters his light, his beams awaken grateful believers to tune their Morning hymn, so that by the priesthood of the saints perpetual praise is kept up at all hours, they swathe our globe in a mantle of thanksgiving, and girdle it with a golden belt of song.
The Lord always deserves to be praised for what he is in himself, for his works of creation and providence, for his goodness towards his creatures, and especially for the transcendent act of redemption, and all the marvellous blessing flowing therefrom. It is always beneficial to praise the Lord; it cheers the day and brightens the night; it lightens toil and softens sorrow; and over earthly gladness it sheds a sanctifying radiance which makes it less liable to blind us with its glare. Have we not something to sing about at this moment? Can we not weave a song out of our present joys, or our past deliverances, or our future hopes? Earth yields her summer fruits: the hay is housed, the golden grain invites the sickle, and the sun tarrying long to shine upon a fruitful earth, shortens the interval of shade that we may lengthen the hours of devout worship. By the love of Jesus, let us be stirred up to close the day with a psalm of sanctified gladness.
I’VE GOT PEACE LIKE A RIVER
The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace. (Psalm 29:11)
Not merely in the words you say,
Not merely in your deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.
And from your eyes He beckons me,
And from your heart His love is shed,
Till I lose sight of you …
And see Christ the Lord instead.
For the past month we have been considering the benefits and blessings of being a Christian—joy, peace, contentment … with rivers of living waters flowing out of such a life (John 7:38). Knowing Christ as personal Savior, experiencing the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, and living with a glorious hope for eternity should produce a dramatic difference in the personality and lifestyle of every true believer. Christ’s redemptive work provides not only for our eternal glory, but also for a full and abundant life now (John 10:10). A professing Christian who is perceived by his family, friends, and colleagues to be continually sour, contentious, and discontent is a disgrace to the Gospel and a hindrance in the work of evangelism.
May the words of this little spiritual increasingly become our genuine testimony as we earnestly seek to direct others to Christ the Lord:
I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.
I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul.
I’ve got faith like a mountain in my soul.
I’ve got love like an ocean in my soul.
I’ve got Christ as my Savior in my soul.
For Today: Psalm 107:9; 119:165; Isaiah 26:3; John 14:27; 16:33; Philippians 4:6, 7, 11; 1 Timothy 6:6
Ask God to make your life truly reflect the peace, joy, faith and love of His indwelling presence as you seek to be an effective representative for Him. Allow the Holy Spirit to produce the “rivers of living water” in your daily living. Carry this musical message with you ---
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. CIII. — THE third contrivance is — ‘that, according to the trope interpretation of the passage, God neither loves all the Gentiles, nor hates all the Jews; but, out of each people, some. And that, by this use of the trope, the Scripture testimony in question, does not at all go to prove necessity, but to beat down the arrogance of the Jews.’ — The Diatribe having opened this way of escape, then comes to this — ‘that God is said to hate men before they are born, because, He foreknows that they will do that which will merit hatred: and that thus, the hatred and love of God do not at all militate against “Free-will”’ — And at last, it draws this conclusion — ‘that the Jews were cut off from the olive tree on account of the merit of unbelief, and the Gentiles grafted in on account of the merit of faith, according to the authority of Paul; and that, a trope is held out to those who are cut off, of being grafted in again, and a warning given to those who are grafted in, that they fall not off.’ —
May I perish if the Diatribe itself knows what it is talking about. But, perhaps, this is also a rhetorical fetch; which teaches you, when any danger seems to be at hand, always to render your sense obscure, lest you should be taken in your own words. I, for my part, can see no place whatever in this passage for those trope-interpretations, of which the Diatribe dreams, but which it cannot establish by proof. Therefore, it is no wonder that this testimony does not make against it, in the trope-interpreted sense, because, it has no such sense.
Moreover, we are not disputing about cutting off and grafting in, of which Paul here speaks in his exhortations. I know that men are grafted in by faith, and cut off by unbelief; and that they are to be exhorted to believe that they be not cut off. But it does not follow, nor is it proved from this, that they can believe or fall away by the power of “Free-will,” which is now the point in question. We are not disputing about, who are the believing and who are not; who are Jews and who are Gentiles; and what is the consequence of believing and falling away; that pertains unto exhortation. Our point in dispute is, by what merit or work they attain unto that faith by which they are grafted in, or unto that unbelief by which they are cut off. This is the point that belongs to you as the teacher of “Free-will.” And pray, describe to me this merit.
Paul teaches us, that this comes to them by no work of theirs, but only according to the love or the hatred of God: and when it is come to them, he exhorts them to persevere, that they be not cut off. But this exhortation does not prove what we can do, but what we ought to do.
I am compelled thus to hedge in my adversary with many words, lest he should slip away from, and leave the subject point, and take up any thing but that: and in fact, to hold him thus to the point, is to vanquish him. For all that he aims at, is to slide away from the point, withdraw himself out of sight, and take up any thing but that, which he first laid down as his subject design.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library