Jun 082015

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.

Isaiah 42:3 (ESV)

One of the great encouraging words from the prophet Isaiah comes in chapter 42. The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Spirit, presents Christ to us as the servant who will not break a bruised reed and will not quench a faintly burning wick. In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, he takes us back to this text to describe the ministry of our Savior in 12:18-21. The servant, chosen by God, is Jesus. The great love of God for His people is seen in the fact that He called His Son to save and serve the elect and the Son executes the offices of their Prophet, Priest and King.

Are you a bruised reed or a faintly burning wick today? Are you weak and tired? Do you feel like you are barely hanging on? Do you ever wonder how you will make it through another day and do you have difficulty believing that ‘God loves me like this?’ Does it seem that God has forgotten or that He doesn’t care?

The invitation of our Servant was spoken (as a prophet the greater Moses speaks) tenderly in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And in Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” In Isaiah 53 we read that the Servant, our Great High Priest, is wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.

We see in this verse the condition of those He came to rescue: weak reeds and faintly burning wicks. He came to rescue those who were not impressive in the eyes of the world. He came to rescue the broken and needy, the desperate and despised.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote a masterpiece of a book entitled The Bruised Reed. The Puritans were so wise in giving care to one another’s souls. In his book he asks, “Who are the bruised reeds?”, to which he answers, they are those not only that are brought low by the burdens of life, but who by them are brought to see their sin, which bruises most of all (my paraphrase).

Yes, we go through God’s bruising, and in them our sin rises to the surface. That hurts! So it is this text above that encourages me. The bruised reed he will not break and the faintly burning wick he will not blow out. Listen to Sibbes here: “For our encouragement to a thorough work of bruising, and patience under God’s bruising of us, let us all know that none are fitted for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off.” Christ’s sheep are weak sheep. But He seeks them, calls them, is tender to them, feeds them, loves them, and heals their broken hearts. He is very familiar with souls bruised by sin and gently restores them. Look at Peter’s failures. He denied Christ three times and yet three times Christ said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Peter forsook Christ at the cross and Christ said following his resurrection, “Go your way, tell his disciples, and Peter.” Our Savior is so patient and kind and gentle. Let us praise God for the faithful ministry of his chosen Servant in the lives of his sheep.

Broken, yet healed in Christ,

Pastor Bill

Jun 082015

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.

Song of Solomon 1:15

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

Song of Solomon 2:1

Our Sunday school adventure in the Song of Solomon is a new experience for me. This is the first time in 20 years that I have taught this important book. Shame on me! Our study has drawn me to two books that have been on my shelves for several years which I have never read. Now I have a great excuse to read them, and I have certainly been blessed. The first was published in 2009 and was written by my good friend and mentor, Michael A.G. Haykin. He perhaps, more than any other, had the greatest impact on my spiritual life while in seminary. He wrote a book called The Christian Lover. It a collection of love letters from believers in the past like Luther and his Katie, John Calvin and Idelette, Adoniram and Ann Judson, and many more.

The second book was originally published in 1971 and was reprinted in 2004. It was written by Elisabeth Dodds and the book is called Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards, probably the most brilliant theologian born on American soil, met his match when he met Sarah. He was 20, she was 13. Sarah was such a beautiful girl in every way that he was enamored by her. Being around her made him a different person. He was captivated by her beauty, and he became awkward around her and would stutter in speech. He took to walking past her house at night for a glimpse of a candle flickering behind an upstairs shutter. He would go to the wharf where shipments were delivered hoping to see her as she picked up packages to take home to her family. Here is what he wrote on the front page of his Greek grammar book – his mind most certainly was not on Greek. You get a glimpse of what true beauty is and what captured Jonathan’s heart.

“They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him – that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up to heaven; being assured that he loves her to well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love, favor and delight, forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and sweetness of temper, uncommon purity in her affections; is most just and praiseworthy in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything thought wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those times in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about, singing sweetly, from place to place; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone and wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”

In our marriages (and everything), Jesus must be first. He is to be our supreme delight. He is to be our first love. Everything flows from our personal relationship with him. Let us draw close to Christ today. Others will see that we are living in His presence moment by moment. Now that is attractive!

Pastor Bill

Apr 072015

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12 (ESV)

Spring has sprung! I love spring (except for allergies). The long, cold winter seems to wreak havoc on the house, inside and out. Outside, there are sticks and leaves all over the yard and flower beds, mold and dirt on the vinyl siding and decks – especially where the sun does not hit the house – and inside, there are many undone projects. Cluttered closets, walls that need a fresh coat of paint, floors that need to be waxed and buffed. Where do we find the time?

Right now is also a great time to pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” As a matter of fact, this is the most important cleaning that needs to be done.

The psalms were poems that were sung, and Psalm 51 is no different. Although it was written out of David’s experience, it would be sung by all in worship.[1] All of us have been conceived in iniquity (v. 5), we have all sinned against God ultimately (v. 4), and we all need mercy and cleansing (v.1-2, 7, 9). We all need spring cleaning. You see, God delights in truth in the inward being (v. 6). By nature, I like to try to cover up my sin, but God sees it. I have blind spots, He does not. We should pray that He teaches us wisdom in the secret heart, that He might reveal hidden sins. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

This conviction of sin is like the breaking of bones (v. 8). It is painful indeed to be confronted with the evil in our heart, yet because of God’s mercy and cleansing, it leads to rejoicing. God does not treat us as our sins deserve and He forgives us through Christ, according to His steadfast love.

Don’t do your spring cleaning half-way! That is something I am prone to do. Let us pray with David, “Wash me thoroughly!” And, don’t procrastinate! We know from Scripture that Nathan confronted David around nine months after David sinned with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, for the child of their adultery was stricken to death by the Lord, seven days after his birth (2 Samuel 12). May God give us grace to deal quickly with our sins, keep short accounts with Him, and to walk in the joy of our salvation. I am so thankful today that He has not cast out this smoldering wick and that He is willing to uphold me!

God, please cleanse us and wash us whiter than snow. Please do not hide Your face from us. For Christ’s sake and because of the righteous blood He shed for us, restore to us Your everlasting joy, this spring and forever! Amen.

Pastor Bill

– * –

[1] Just a side note here: the superscripts in the Psalms are a part of the inspired Scripture. Not the publisher’s title to the chapter, but the superscripts. David penned this Psalm sometime after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin (2 Samuel 11-12).

Feb 112014

Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.

Genesis 3:18 (ESV)

When Adam listened to his wife and ate of the tree of which God commanded him not eat, God said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:17-19) As I was working at the tree farm last week, these verses came to my mind. Why? Because there are several fields that have not been tended over the last two years, hence large thorns and brier bushes have grown in between the trees. I have had the pleasure (NOT!) of working in these fields to remove the thorns and briers so that these trees can be ready to be trimmed in March. Let me tell you, fighting thorns and briers is hard work. This task has reminded me again of the curse of Adam’s sin and my union with him by nature.

By grace, I am now united to Christ, and He is my new Lord and Master. Yet, I still fight sin in my heart, and let me tell you, it is a hard fight, especially if I do not tend or give care to my spiritual condition. To leave the trees unattended means thorns and thistles. By leaving my heart unattended means the same.

This quote from John Owen that I mentioned a few months ago, “Kill a sin or part of a sin every day… Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” has been going through my mind as I chop through these fierce opponents to lovely Christmas trees. Justification, or the declaration of my right standing with the Father, occurs in a moment of time. Sanctification, however, is a process, beginning at regeneration and continuing on until I return “to the ground”. I am not passive in my sanctification, but I am actively called to mortify the flesh, to work out my salvation, to make my calling and election sure. Of course I know that God the Spirit is working, but true faith is evidenced by works, by a growing in holiness and Christ-likeness. For my heart to flourish, like the trees, I must be pulling weeds, or rooting out those things that hinder growth and productivity. Like the thorns in the fields, they are not hard to spot. Sometimes the sin in our hearts might be hard to spot, but I think we all know many of the things that cause us to struggle.

As I have been chopping down these thorns and briers, very often those long twigs stick to my clothes and I just can’t seem to shake them off. It takes great effort. But I have noticed, in the five hours I have dedicated so far to this task at the farm, I actually have made great progress. I have already finished two fields! This gives me hope in my fight against indwelling sin.

It causes me to look to Christ. When you read through the Scriptures, thorns and briers and thistles are always associated with God’s judgment. Nowhere is a thorn and thistle a good thing. What is the Christ connection? When our Savior was crucified, the soldiers weaved together a crown of thorns and placed it on His head and mocked His kingship. It was a symbol of God’s judgment upon sin and the great humiliation which our Savior endured for the sake of His people. On the ground of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, and by virtue of His intercessory ministry to His people, the power of sin is crushed and the grace to fight and remove the thorns is granted.

One last thought: I have learned that January is a great month to be removing the brier bushes. The weather is cool and the branches are brittle. They can get chopped up much quicker this time of year. You know, right now, as we are still in the first part of the year, it’s a great time to give careful attention to our hearts. Let us pray for each other and encourage one another as we press on in this fight. Our fight with sin will soon be over, but let us fight until we return to the dust or Jesus returns.

Blessings in Jesus,

Pastor Bill

Aug 202013

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.

Titus 2:1 (ESV)

Titus was a faithful companion and co-laborer of the apostle Paul. God used Titus much to encourage the saints in Corinth. At one point, Titus went Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10), but here, in Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul tells us that he left Titus on the Island of Crete. The only time we see Paul on the Island of Crete is when he’s on his way to Rome (Acts 27:7). Apparently, Titus was with Paul on this trip and, before Paul entered a terrible storm and was ship-wrecked, he left Titus in a storm of a different kind. The believers in Crete had not appointed the proper leadership in the churches, there were false teachers upsetting whole families, and there seemed to be confusion among the believers in Crete as to proper gender relationships in the church and in the home. The believers in Crete did not understand how the Gospel applied to all areas of their lives (Titus 2:11-14).

So Paul tells Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” He makes a sharp contrast between what the false teachers were teaching and what Titus is to teach. Paul links sound doctrine with gender roles, and this is very important.

Some want to say that the gender issues addressed are merely cultural and are not in effect today. Many today claim that these ideas are archaic and old fashioned. But this view is easily debunked because, as you will notice, the gender roles spoken of here are rooted, not in culture, but in sound doctrine. They are rooted in God’s truth. We see other places in Scripture that make it clear that gender roles are traced back to the created order (see 1 Timothy 2:12-15).

The men of RBC have been reading and studying Mark Dever’s Book, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. It is not an exhaustive treatment of everything that the New Testament teaches about a healthy church, but it’s a great start. We see in Paul’s letter to Titus that one of the evidences of a healthy believing community is how that community handles gender roles in the church and at home.

Titus is to address the older men of the congregation. They are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. The men are to lead their homes and their church in this way. As men grow older, a certain responsibility rests upon them. They should not be living in the foolishness of their youth. By this time in life, older believing men should be Christ-like examples to their families and church. As we learned in Richard Phillips’ book, The Masculine Mandate, men are to be builders and keepers, workers and protectors, nurturers and tenders of those around them.

Paul tells Titus to address the older women. They are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands. Older women have an extremely vital role in the church. They are to teach the younger women how to care for their respective domestic responsibilities in the home. Lots can be said about this: notice that young women need to be trained to love their husbands and children. For starters, let me say that when I was a young husband and father, I was not easy to love. I was very immature and I did not love and care for my children as I ought. I could be hard to live with! I don’t think that testimony only applies to me! I think many young husbands and fathers are foolish, and impulsive, and selfish, and inconsiderate. Young wives are often shocked to learn that their “Prince Charming” is not so charming once they are joined together in matrimony. Very often, young wives need to learn a special patience and grace for their husbands. An older and more experienced husband should become easier to live with! The older women are then better equipped to help younger women flourish during that season of their life.

And children…young women not only have to deal with (perhaps) an immature husband, but also immature children. Young mothers have a very difficult task of living what is sometimes a very isolated life in the home with the demands of child-rearing. Older women are to train the younger women how to serve their husbands and children and tend to the home. This does not mean that a woman cannot work outside the home (See Proverbs 31), but it is clear that the woman’s main role is to maintain the home. If work outside the home hinders work inside the home, the work outside should cease. Remember, this is sound doctrine. When the structure of marriage and church is properly in line with Scriptural gender roles, so the marriage and the church will be healthy.

Titus is also to address the young men. They are to be self-controlled. Enough said!

In all of this we should see that the believing community is a beautiful harmonizing of the generations! I take this text to mean that Titus was to teach this in public from the pulpit and privately as the need arose. When they were in church, all age groups would hear the same instruction together. As for Titus, he was to show himself to be a model of good works, teaching with integrity, dignity, sound speech, putting the evil world to shame (verse 7). The young were not primarily to be taught about life from their peers (although they will learn things from peers, either good or bad). Rather, older, more experienced believers in life and in the faith were to train the young.

I love our small groups at RBC. I am so thankful that my children can glean wisdom from older, godly men and women. Older believers that neglect to teach and train younger believers in the church are in great disobedience. And the young should seize every opportunity to learn from and listen to and emulate the more experienced. So, let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together – old and young! And let us spur one another on to love and good deeds. This is how we grow to full maturity in Christ!

May 142013

To those who are the elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood: may grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (ESV)

Last week, we saw that believers are not elected so that they can live however they please. Believers are elected to be conformed to the image of Christ. Believers are elected for holiness, in the sanctification of the Spirit. Election is also unto obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with His blood. Believers were chosen to have the work and benefits of Christ applied to them so that they can live in obedience to God.

Peter alludes back to Exodus 24:3-8, when Moses confirmed the covenant between God and Israel. Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the people, pointing us ultimately to the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. In Exodus 24:7, Moses read the book of the covenant in the hearing of all the people and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” So, when Peter says that we are elect for obedience to Jesus Christ and for the sprinkling of His blood, he refers to the blood of the new covenant, which cleanses us from sin and grants us a heart of obedience. The blood of forgiveness that is applied to the believer’s soul is the fruit of God’s election in Christ. So, John Calvin called election the “parent of faith”. If we are believers, we are elected to faith and salvation, elected unto a union with Christ, elected unto adoption, and elected to participate in all the redemptive provisions of our great God and Father. We have been chosen by God to be Abraham’s offspring, heirs of the promise, receiving the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14). We are born again of the Spirit, adopted into God’s family, our sins cast as far as the east is from the west, united with Christ and placed in His Church, and we are preserved forever for an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). The inheritance and rest of Joshua would point to this! The inheritance Israel received through Joshua was one that would not last; the land was still defiled, and it would fade away. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on” (Hebrews 4:8).

As you look at verse 2, you can’t help but see that God’s election is personal. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you (plural).” The plural “you” refers back to the elect. Election is clearly definite, personal and irreversible. Romans 9:10-13 – “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” The election of certain individuals for salvation was God’s purpose in redemption. God loves one graciously and calls him to Himself, like Jacob, and God passes over others, like the reprobate Esau. This was the essence of Calvin’s view of election and reprobation: “God’s election is always sovereign and gracious. None of the elect deserves to be elect and enter into heaven. At the same time, God’s reprobation is always sovereign and just: none of the reprobate will be unjustly damned to hell.”

The personal nature of God’s election of sinners brings warmth and comfort to the believer. It is evidence that no one cares for you and loves you like your heavenly Father. “The Son of God has loved you and has given his life for you” (Gal. 2:20). The great hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above,” says it so well: “My name is graven on his hands. My name is written on his heart. I know that while in heaven he stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.” God has displayed the richness of His mercy to you (Eph. 2). When God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, it was a display of His goodness and kindness (Titus 3). The Son of God met all the Law’s demands on your behalf. His perfect life secured your righteousness and in His sacrificial death He became your substitute. He rose again and He sits at His Father’s right hand where He continually intercedes for you. His sinless blood, shed for you, speaks on your behalf, and it protects you from all the accusations of our enemy. Divine election is a most glorious truth for the Christian. Marvel at His love today and give Him thanks that He has called you and granted faith and repentance. It’s all His work!

Praising Him,

Pastor Bill

May 072013

To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit.

1 Peter 1:1 (ESV)

We have already seen the fallacy of conditional election. Last week, we saw that God’s foreknowledge means that His love is voluntary, discriminatory (He chooses whomever He wills) and gracious. He has always known His Bride intimately. So, to say that God has always foreknown us is to say that God has always loved us.

This week we will look at how Peter refutes the Arminian objection that if election is true, then that means believers can live however they choose. Arminians claim that unconditional election takes away from a believer’s motivation to holiness, since he is already elect. But Peter makes clear that the elect are not only so according to the foreknowledge of God, but they are elect for a purpose: in the sanctification of the Spirit. The elect are called to holiness through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Sanctification is a process that begins at regeneration. Sanctification is distinct from justification, but there will not be one without the other. God sanctifies those whom He justifies. “Without holiness,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “no will see the Lord.” Peter also affirms this truth: sinful, depraved people cannot enter into God’s presence nor live a holy life unless they have been sanctified by the Spirit. Peter says in verses 14-16, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Calvinists must be careful to guard against either legalism (works righteousness) or antinomianism (no law). We cannot add to what Christ has done for us, but at the same time, the Law has not been abolished. The Law has been written on our hearts, so it is the Spirit that works in us, making God’s law a delight to us. The Law is powerless to save, but it points us to Christ, who is our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). Unconditional election is a call to holiness. “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)

So, the very purpose of election is to make God’s people holy. God’s election does not destroy moral effort; rather, as Spurgeon notes, “God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.” And Thomas Watson said, “Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s elect sheep.” No believer can say, “Because I am elect, I do not need to be Christ-like.” Rather, a believer should say, “Because I am elect, I cannot avoid being Christ-like.” As surely as God has committed to save a people for the glory of his name, He also is committed to their purity in life and heart. No true Christian should be comfortable in a lifestyle of sin. This is the work of the Spirit bringing conviction and causing us to confess and look to Christ.

Mar 212013

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.

Genesis 14:18 (ESV)

The Second London Confession of 1689 says in section 1.9, “It is an infallible rule that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, that is to say, one part by another. Hence any dispute as to the true, full and evident meaning of a particular passage must be determined in light of clearer, comparable passages.” The Reformers were committed to destroy the prominent view of Scriptural interpretation prevalent in their day. This view of biblical interpretation began early in Church history and carried through all the way to Luther (though some even hold to this today!). This method is known by the Latin, “Quadriga”, or “the four-fold” sense. What this means is that the Medieval view was that each text of Scripture had four senses to it: 1) a literal sense, 2) an allegorical sense, 3) a tropological (pulling out the moral teachings) sense and lastly, 4) an anagogical (a mystical interpretation that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife) sense.

Those that held to this view could look at the verse above and say:

  • 1) The literal sense – Melchizedek brought bread and wine and refreshed the soldiers of Abraham after battle and travel.
  • 2) The allegorical sense – Melchizedek offers up Christ in the Mass.
  • 3) The tropological sense – Melchizedek is giving bread to the poor. He is doing a morally good deed, so we should in like manner give to the poor.
  • 4) The anagogical sense – As Christ is in heaven, he shall be the bread of life to the faithful.

The Puritan William Perkins said that such a method of interpretation “must be exploded and rejected because there is only one sense, and the same is the literal.” A text might demand an allegorical interpretation of course, if it is in its literary style an allegory. But we are not to go hunting for interpretations that the literal reading of the text does not warrant. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted. This literal sense has also been called the literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible. It simply reads the Bible like one would read any other piece of literature, taking into account figures of speech, genres of literature, etc.

I should also make a distinction when it comes to the Bible. The Bible can be read like any other book, but it is NOT like any other book. The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient Word, and at the end of the day, only those in whom the Spirit of God dwells will really understand its message (1 Corinthians 2). Only those indwelt by the Spirit will love it as the Word of God and desire to live their lives by its teachings. The Spirit-inspired Word must be Spirit-illumined in our hearts. Let us never take the ministry of God’s Spirit for granted. When we come to the Bible every day, our heart’s cry should be for divine assistance to understand its message and apply its message by God’s grace and power. This He gives to His people. Let us in humility and trust come to His Word in the right manner of heart, reading it in the sense that it should be understood, but acknowledging every moment that it is NOT like every other book and that we need God’s help. Let us pour our lives and hearts into the Bible. I pray that we will read it to understand it and let its truth conform us into the image of Christ.

Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!)

Pastor Bill

Jan 012013

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

Isa 43:19-21 (ESV)

The New Year presents an opportunity to reflect on our lives. This is not something I am always eager to do, and that would probably be true of most of us. I think back to all my failures and the things that do not seem to improve (which seems to be the first thing I do) and I cannot see how it all fits in God’s plan. I know God is working all things together for my good, to conform me into the image of Christ, but sometimes it hurts. Yes, today begins the New Year, but things in my life do not seem so “new”. Well, one thing changed when I woke up this morning: I am told that I am falling down a fiscal cliff! But all in all, I woke up still trying to fight the good fight of faith. I know God holds the future, but I struggle to trust. Maybe that’s your story today also. Today was just the continuation of the “same ol’ stuff”.

I am very blessed and I do have much for which to be thankful. I really don’t want to sound like I’m in a “downer” frame of mind, but I am. I know I have so far to go; and besides prayer and Bible reading, I don’t always know where to start.

This last Sunday I was able to attend the church I attended as a child. I was blessed to see my childhood pastor and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. Tom Sizer. I only had one pastor from age 5, when we moved to Cincinnati, until age 18 when I went to Toccoa Falls College. Pastor Sizer faithfully taught and lived God’s Word before us. Mrs. Sizer was my Sunday school teacher when I was a teen. There were many Sundays when I was the only teen there and Mrs. Sizer prepared and taught like there was a room full. I still remember many of her lessons from 1 Peter! Yes, Mrs. Sizer, you taught me to hope in God!

Pastor and Mrs. Sizer came to Calvary Chapel Alliance Church in the infant stages of the church. They gave themselves for the work of the ministry and labored there for 31 years! They are faithful to ask my father, who still attends the church, of my well-being and the well-being of the new work that I pastor. But this Sunday, Mrs. Sizer was able to ask me in person how things were going. I told her that I and the church have many ups and downs. There are good days and bad days. My emotions go from very excited, as I see things moving forward, to very helpless, as I see the effects of sin and the brokenness in this world. I see physical distress and I think, “How can I help and encourage this one?” I see financial stress and I pray, “O God, please prosper your people and provide for their needs and give them grace to trust.” I see broken relationships, broken promises, friends moving away, and rejection.

Mrs. Sizer told me of the many struggles they had in the infant stages of Calvary Chapel. They started with 25, and by the end of their first year there were 17. But then, Mrs. Sizer pointed me once again to our God of hope. She said, “Look at the church now!” By God’s grace, Calvary Chapel is full. To the Sizers, it was worth all the sacrifices and all the financial strains and all the trials. God is faithful and I know he will care for me and RBC. God knows my heart and my motives. My one desire is that the lost will hear the Gospel and be saved and that the members of RBC will grow to full maturity in Christ.

God is doing a new thing. First, He is doing it in me and you. We may not perceive it, but He is working in ways I cannot always see. Secondly, He is working in RBC. Again, we may not perceive it, and it might appear otherwise, but God is doing a new thing. He is making a way in our wilderness and he is providing rivers in our desert. Christ is building His Church and God is working in the hearts of His people to cause them to honor Him. He will give drink to His chosen people. He knows we need refreshing and He is faithful to quench our thirst for more of Him.

I am thankful today that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Christ. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. Jesus came to rescue pitiful sinners like me and you. Without Him I have nothing. So let us pray for Christ to be glorified in our lives and in our church. This Sunday begins prayer emphasis week. The sermon, Lord willing, will come from Isaiah 59, particularly verse 1: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.”

Through all the adversity and trials that were still with us when we woke up this morning, let us hope in God. Let us not throw in the towel of defeat, in spite of our failures. Let us press on trusting in the kindness of Savior.

Trusting only in His sovereign plan for us,

Pastor Bill

Aug 132012

For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Phil. 4:11 (ESV)

I think it would be agreed by all that the pursuit of contentment is an honorable pursuit. All speak of contentment as a virtue to be sought and cherished. Why are we then, so often, not content? Why are our hearts so restless? Why the constant need of something else? Why the constant need for a change?

William S. Plumer (1802-1880) was an American Presbyterian minister who said, “The difficulty is not so much in the want (lack) of good rules and strong reasons for guiding us into a state of contentment, but in the deep rooted aversion (feelings of intense dislike) of our hearts to a duty that requires our submission to the will of God. We know better than we do. Seeing the right, we pursue the wrong. We smile at the folly or frown at the wickedness of discontent in others and then follow their example.”

How true that is! We all know contentment is something we should pursue, but our sinful hearts by nature often do like what God gives. We think we deserve better or that God owes us something more. We rebel against what we know is right and in pride pursue that which can never fully satisfy.

Contentment is a disposition of the mind in which we are satisfied with the will of God respecting our temporal affairs – without hard thoughts or hard speeches concerning his allotments and without any sinful desire for a change. It submissively receives what it is given. It thankfully enjoys present mercies. It leaves the future in the hand of unerring wisdom. There is nothing in true contentment to make men satisfied with anything in the world or to make them happy to think of this world as a permanent abode. The most contented person, in other words, may yet long for the day when Christ comes. It is far better to be with Him.[1]

One of the ways to understand more of what contentment is is to examine what it is not. Plumer mentions seven opposites. First, and most prominent, is envy. When a man’s heart grows sick over the worldly success of others and hates him for it, he is on a dangerous path. The second opposite is anxiety over worldly things. We need to settle in our minds that fretting about the cares of this world really is a sin and folly. It is no wonder we are called to “cast all our cares upon Him for He cares for us”, and “take no thought of your life, what you shall eat and what you shall drink. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Thirdly, contentment is opposed to covetousness. Contentment does not hold on to what it has nor is it greedy for more. It is satisfied knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Fourthly, contentment is the opposite of pride. John Mason wrote, “Humility is the mother of contentment. They that deserve nothing should be content with anything.” Fifthly, contentment is opposed to ungodly ambition. Those with a wicked ambition are content with nothing gained because they always want to push themselves even farther. They feel like there is something greater that must be achieved to reach the true state of contentment, but it never comes. In the sixth place, contentment is opposed to murmuring. Rather than displaying in their speech and attitude a heart of thanksgiving and submission, the discontent murmur. Be aware of those who make a habit of complaining. There is probably not much that will make them content. They will always find something else to complain about. Lastly, contentment is in opposition to distrust in God. Instead of waiting on the Lord and relying on him for strength, how frequently do we think that the world is simply going to cease. Our outlook is so pessimistic. Things will never get better. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” says the Proverb. The Bible everywhere calls His people to trust!

Perhaps you are even now in the school of contentment. Are you learning anything? Am I learning anything? I want to say with Paul that, “In whatever situation I am, I have learned to be content.” Let us continually ask God to increase our faith. Until He returns let us run the race with joy, rest in the Lord and His steadfast, covenant love, waiting patiently for him and remembering that we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out it (1 Timothy 6:7). “Naked you came and naked you will return” (Job 1:21). There are no U-hauls behind a hearse! God bless you, dear friends.

Pastor Bill

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[1] William S. Plumer, What is Contentment? Reprinted in the Free Grace Broadcaster, Issue 213, Fall 2010.