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Archive for the ‘encouragement’ Category

table-in-the-wilderness

Then they spoke against God; they said, “Can God prepare a table the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:19).

Psalm 78, written by Asaph, is a record of Israel’s continued sin and God’s continued forgiveness and faithfulness. These were the generations that were delivered from Egypt,  spent forty years wandering in the wilderness, and were taken into the promised land. Each had seen God do miraculous things, but they continued to sin and disobey God, who in turn disciplined them.

At a certain point, in their sin, the Israelites asked if God could prepare a table in the wilderness. Let’s think about that. The God who created the universe out of nothing…created human beings out of the dust of the earth…made a nation with as many people as sand on the seashore through a very old man and a woman who was beyond her childbearing years…spoke through a burning bush…sent ten plagues on the nation of Egypt…split the Red Sea so that His people escaped and the Egyptian army drowned…provided manna to eat…provided water from a rock to drink…provided His people with meat to eat…led them with a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day…provided for His people so that their shoes and clothes didn’t wear out…and drove out the enemies of Israel from the promised land. “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” Yes, I think He can!

Fast-forward about four thousand years and ask the same question: “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” Can He take my heart, which is a wilderness, and prepare a table there? Yes, because it’s exactly what He did in 1980 when He removed my heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. He’s given me a new heart but not a perfect one, therefore He continues to work. Can God forgive sin that seems unforgivable…give love when there is only hatred…give hope when things seem hopeless…give overwhelming comfort in the midst of great pain…provide for your every need…sustain you at all times…give patience when it’s extremely hard…open spiritually and physically blind eyes…open spiritually and physically deaf ears…reform your, and your church’s, thinking according to God’s Word…revive your, and your church’s, love and zeal for the Him…save someone you’ve prayed for as long as you can remember…give courage and boldness just when you need it…give strength to the weary…and give you joy instead of mourning? Yes, I think He can! Not only that, but He’s also faithful to forgive us when we don’t believe He can.

 

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220px-John_Calvin_by_Holbein

There are other circumstances in which those who are pious should stand firm in peace and patience. Such qualities should extend to every situation that we encounter in this life. No one, then, has properly denied himself except the one who has abandoned himself to the Lord so that every aspect of his life will be governed by his will. The person thus composed in soul will neither judge himself to be miserable, nor will he spitefully complain against God for his lot in life, come what may.

The true necessity of having such a disposition is clear if you consider how many unforeseen events we are exposed to in this life. We are continually harassed by one illness or another; the plague advances; we are cruelly vexed by the calamities of war; frost and hail render the land barren and leave us with little, devouring our expectations for the year’s crop. Wife, parents, children, and close relatives are snatched away by death; homes are consumed by fire. These are events which make men curse their lives, despise the day they were born, hold in contempt heaven and its light, rage against God, and, being fluent in blasphemies, accuse God of unfairness and cruelty. But the believer must in these circumstances consider the mercy and the Fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: “The Lord’s grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate.” If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever” (Ps. 79:13). God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God’s discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord.

(A Little Book on the Christian Life, by John Calvin; translated by Aaron Dendinger an Burk Parsons, Reformation Trust, 2017, pp. 51-53)

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Unknown

Matt Smerthurst makes the point that a Christian is defined by newness. Because of God’s grace:

  • We have a new heart (Ezek. 26:26)
  • We’ve experienced a new birth (John 3:3)
  • We are a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17)
  • We have new life (Rom. 6:4)
  • We have new desires (Gal. 5:22-24)
  • We have a new family (Mark 3:35)
  • We have new foes (Luke 21:17)
  • We have a new service (Rom. 7:6)
  • We have a new struggle (Gal. 5:17)
  • We have a new name (Rev. 2:17)
  • We have a new hope (2 Pet. 3:13)

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Behold, the old has passed away; the new has come!

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intro

I read something on Twitter the other day that got me thinking. The author’s gist was that he had had a bad experience with a Christian “celebrity” and it left a bad taste in his mouth.

The author, along with several others including the “celebrity” (a well-known pastor), went to a local restaurant for a meal and some time together. The well-known pastor treated the wait staff horribly. He was rude, demanding, and demeaning. He treated those who served him as if they were beneath him. In case you’re wondering, the author of the tweet spent most of the day with this same group of people and, sadly, discovered this was “standard operating procedure” for the well-known pastor. The way he looks at this pastor has been radically changed.

I can sympathize with this author. I’ve had the “pleasure” of being around several well-known Christians (not too many, though) who treated people terribly, were arrogant, in addition to being demanding. They didn’t act very Christlike. In fairness, I need to say that I’ve also had several very positive experiences with well-known Christians, too. Michael Card – the musician – is one of the most humble, kind, and caring men (not to mention incredibly talented) I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

You can tell a lot about someone’s character by the way they treat the people who serve them (waiters, waitresses, receptionists, custodians, doormen, delivery people, cashiers, Uber drivers, front desk agents – you get the picture) – those who can’t do anything to “help” their career. When you treat people who serve you like dirt, it reflects badly on Christ and His church. It turns them off and gives people another reason to reject the gospel. It also has the effect of discouraging fellow believers in Christ, not to mention disillusioning them. (By the way, while that can happen with well-known pastors, musicians, conference speakers, authors, and the like, it can also happen with those of us who aren’t well-known, too. How we treat people matters.)

James and John – two of Jesus’ disciples who happened to be brothers – came to Jesus and asked Him to give them seats (positions of power) on His right and left when He comes into His kingdom. Jesus answered by saying, Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44). The Lord makes clear that James and John’s perspective is backwards. Non-believers (or “Gentiles” as He calls them) are domineering (“lord it over”) when it comes to those “underneath” them. In contrast (“it is not this way among you”), those who belong to Christ are servants and slaves. We serve others for the glory of God and don’t “lord it over” others, especially those who we think are “beneath” us. 

How we treat people makes a difference – a bigger difference than we think. The gospel is offensive by itself; we don’t need to add to it by being obnoxious.

(Author’s note: I don’t know the identity of the well-known pastor.)

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psil4

“We’ve missed you in church” (or “We’ve missed you at Bible study”).

“Well, things have been really tough lately. We’re really going through it right now.”

You’ve heard that exchange before. I know I have. Maybe you’ve said either of those lines yourself. But is it right – is it what God wants?

Pslam 119:143-144 says, “Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” Life had gotten tough for the psalmist. He describes it as “trouble” and “anguish” Whatever he was experiencing could easily be described as God’s “dark providence,” which could have kept him from God, His Word, and His people. But it didn’t.

Why hadn’t the suffering psalmist drifted from God? Because He was sustained by God’s Word. God’s commandments (His Word, in other words) were his delight in the midst of his troubles. He didn’t succumb to the temptation of ignoring God when things weren’t going well. In fact, when life got tough, the psalmist ran towards God, and not away from Him. In his troubles and anguish, he was sustained by God through His Word. As he poured over God’s Law day and night, He was nourished and strengthened by what he read.

If (and when) we’re “really going through it” and things are tough, we need to be in God’s Word and with His people more than ever, and not away from them. His Word is our delight in trouble and anguish. He uses it to sustain us for His glory and our good!

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charlesspurgeon1

It’s sometimes said that pain and suffering have no purpose or meaning, even (sadly) by those who profess to be Christians. But if the God who is both sovereign and good is involved (and He most definitely is), there is meaning and purpose in everything.

In Psalm 119:71, the psalmist says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.” That sounds strange when we hear it. We have a strong tendency to avoid affliction, or try to get out of it, because it hurts and we don’t like it. If we don’t see an obvious purpose, we think none exists.

Contrary to our limited understanding, one of the reasons for affliction (trials, trouble, and tribulation, if you will) is learning God’s Word (“statutes” is another way of referring to God’s Word and Law). Notice the flow of thought from the psalmist: At some point, he was afflicted (we don’t know the details). He went to God’s Word/Law in order to find comfort, meaning, the promises of God, the character of God, and the truth about himself. In the process, he gained more knowledge and appreciation of God, not to mention a closer relationship with Him. Therefore, he says that affliction was good for him. It drove him deep into God’s Word – the Scriptures – and deeper into God. Without those afflictions, he may not have learned God’s statutes, and neither will we.

There is meaning in suffering and affliction. God has many purposes for it – one of them being a greater knowledge and understanding of God and His Word.

Can we say that it was good for us that we were afflicted because it caused us to learn God’s Word? I pray we can.

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meditate-on-gods-word

It’s the desire of every true Christian to pursue holiness, to live a life that’s pleasing and honoring to God. Psalm 119, which is a 176-verse song dedicated to God’s Word, talks a lot about holiness and the pursuit of it. There’s a direct connection between the two.

Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young man (or anyone else for that matter) keep his way pure? ” Next comes the answer: “By living according to Your word.” Purity is the result of obedience to God’s Word.

Verse 11 adds action to the truth expressed in verse 9: “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” One of the most important ways to pursue a life of holiness is to hide God’s Word in our heart. But what does that mean?

First, it’s a personal commitment“I have hidden” means that I myself and making a decision to do something, and it’s not one-time only but rather an ongoing commitment. “I have, and will continue to, hide God’s Word in my heart.”

Second, it involves God’s Word. Notice the psalmist says, “Your word” which means God’s Word. When Psalm 119 was written, “Your word” meant the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) primarily. Today “Your word” refers to all 66 books of the God-inspired Scripture. What we hide in our hearts is God’s Word, not our own or someone else’s.

Third, it involves the meaning of hiding God’s Word“Hidden” means “treasure” and “meditate,” but carries the idea of careful reflection. Hiding God’s Word doesn’t refer to reading at a service level or even devotionally. It refers to memorizing and meditating on God’s Word in such a way that it becomes hidden in our heart. In other words, we know it “by heart” as the saying goes.

Fourth, it involves the goal. The result is “that I might not sin against You.” Hiding God’s Word in our heart advances our spiritual health and holiness. It will change your thinking which will, in turn, change your behavior. It’s how the pursuit of holiness takes place.

As someone has said, “The Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible. “

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