Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Prayer After Preaching

Heavenly Father,

Needy did I walk to the pulpit with Your Word,
Feeble as my heart was
       and imperfect were my words -
Take Your glorious truths I expounded
Tether Your power to the words I had spoken
      and burn them into the hearts You have created anew.

Bind the wounds of the brokenhearted
Encourage the despondent
Give motion to the idle
Grant repentance to the sinful
Provide strength to the weak
       mercy to the needy
       rest to the weary
       peace to the flustered
       joy to the downcast
       perseverance to those at the end of themselves

Raise my thoughts of Jesus higher
Diminish my thoughts of myself lower
       to shepherd Your people heavenward
       where I will lay my staff at Your feet

Grant to Your servant rest
       and teach me to rest
Trusting You have no need
       of my labors
       of my worries
       of my dreams
       of my successes
That I may sleep tonight
While You never rest
       and work as I sleep

Lord, before You I lay all my uncertainties
       my fears
       my failings
       my brokenness
       my longings        
And lay them all into Your competent hands

I entrust my flock
       those whom my heart loves
To the Good Shepherd
       Whose voice they follow
       Toward the city of the living God
       Where we will enjoy You forever
                 In everlasting rest
                      Which we foretasted here
                            And rested so briefly

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Slipping Away to Pray


“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” -Luke 5:16

With the advent of cars and internet, the modern human workload and connectivity and soccer practices and binge watching flood our schedules with travel, noise, and busyness. We humans can survive through our days and nights in this noise without rest; however, our Creator made us to worship Him, not simply survive. Without taking rest in God in needy worship, we will press through our schedules while joy and peace fades into anxiety or indifference. We become downcast. 

Christ’s example is set before us to become more like Him. Our Lord had a busy schedule. Many people were coming to Him for healing, massive crowds pressed in around Him hungry for teaching, and Pharisees came with confrontation in attempts to frustrate Him. In the midst of this schedule, the Gospel writer Luke inserts that Jesus made a regular habit to slip away to pray alone. Not with His disciples. He went away alone.

Getting away to pray to the Father, without the company of others or receiving public notice, seems inefficient to the modern person. There are so many things I need to do and needs my attention. Why slip away? What will prayer accomplish? Before we claim that we would never say this, how often do we slip away to pray alone? In practice, we view prayer as useless activity, especially praying without anyone else. Why disconnect? Why slip away? It sounds like driving on a long road trip alone in a car with no working radio.

Spurgeon said, “though infinitely better able to do without prayer than we are, yet Christ prayed much more than we do.” Why? His communion with the heavenly Father, which He won for us. We now enjoy fellowship with God. We can take to Him our troubles and anxieties, our joys and cares.
We are not alone when we slip away to pray alone. If God is simply a subject we talk about in crowds rather than a Person enjoyed in worship of Him, praying alone will seem lonely. 

Prayer is part of a life of worship. Enjoying God, being in His presence to delight in Him, this is cause enough to slip away from the noise and the schedule to pray to my heavenly Father. This means we must see communion with God as more delightful than anything else. To persevere in our slipping away into private communion with God in prayer, even through difficulties and trials, our hearts must be set more deeply upon our delight in God and less absorbed in pleasing ourselves through our leisure and busyness in life.
Heavenly Father, grant us grace to crave a deep, private communion with You in our prayers. Guard our hearts through our days that we may slip away from our noisy, busy lives to enjoy being with You. For truly a day in Your courts is better than a thousand days in our earthly pursuits. We ask for your mercies in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Love One Another

In the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed, our Lord shockingly put on the form of a servant and washed His disciples' feet. Soon after, Judas Iscariot leaves the Passover Meal and makes his way to members of the Sanhedrin to receive payment in exchange for betraying Jesus.When Judas leaves, Jesus tells the remaining disciples God is about to glorify Him. Our Lord gently calls them "little children," telling them He is to be with them only a little while longer, and where He is going they cannot come.

"A new commandment I give you," Jesus proclaimed (John 13:34). Think about this. Jesus, Lord and Judge of the universe proclaims a command to His followers. Jesus, who is described in Revelation as having "eyes like a flame of fire" and a "voice like the roar of many waters" and "from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1:12-16). He is commanding you and me as Judge and Ruler with an expectation to obey.

"Love one another," the Lord ordered. How?

Jesus continued His mandate, "As I have loved you, you also are to love one another." How have You loved us, Lord, that we may love one another in the same way?

Love is patient and kind
Love does not envy or boast
Love is not arrogant or rude. 
Love does not insist on its own way
Love is not irritable or resentful
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  
Love bears all things
Love believes all things
Love hopes all things
Love endures all things.
                                (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

The church is the bride of Christ, and as our Lord took on the form of a servant and washed His disciples' feet, He washes His bride whom He died for with the water of His Word (Ephesians 5:25-26). When our Lord had finished washing His disciples' feet, He said, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." Our Lord has given us an example of loving service He is commanding you and I to obey in His church.

This is what a church is to look like who is "bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-7). To disobey the love one another command in rebellion to the Head of the Church is to disrupt her Spirit-given unity and peace.

As described in I Corinthians 13, love in the church bought by Jesus Christ who loves His church is a patient, long-suffering love brimming with kindness towards one another. There is no air of arrogance or rudeness. No voice of boasting how much better we perform our Christian duties than others. Love does not demand from each other to accomplish our preferences and get our own way. Love dispels any and all tension of irritability or resentful desire to injure others. Love rejoices in the truth, not at wrongdoing.

Charles Spurgeon comments, "This love both covers and bears all things. It never proclaims the errors of others. It refuses to see faults unless it may kindly help in their removal. It stands in the presence of a fault with a finger on its lips. It does not attempt to make a catalog of provocations."

Spurgeon said in reference to "believing all things," 
To our fellow Christians, love always believes the best of them. I wish we had more of this faith abroad in all the churches, for a horrid blight falls upon some communities through suspicion and mistrust. Though everything may be pure and right, yet certain weak minds are suddenly fevered with anxiety through the notion that all is wrong and rotten. This unholy mis-trust is in the air, a blight upon all peace: it is a sort of fusty mildew of the soul by which all sweet perfume of confidence is killed. (Source)
 Instead, this love which believes all things
believes good of others as long as it can, and when it is forced to fear that wrong has been done, love will not readily yield to evidence but will give the accused brother or sister the benefit of many doubts. Some persons habitually believe everything that is bad about others; they are not the children of love.
The Apostle Paul concludes this thought in his letter to the local church in Corinth with this, "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

In his book, Charity and its Fruits, the Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards writes,
Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer's kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.
Let God's love which is poured out into our hearts send forth streams of love for Christ's church. Brothers and sisters, let our love be genuine and love one another in obedience to Christ, our loving Bridegroom. For our Lord's love for us bears all things, is patient and kind with us. He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Psalm 86:15). We love because He first loved us (I John 4:19). Praise be to God for His great love and amazing grace for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Redeemed Marriages


“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” -Colossians 3:18-19

Recently I ran an errand to the grocery store where I witnessed an older married couple make snappy comments to each other aisle after aisle. She would start with making a snappy comment about him over something trivial, and he would return a snappy comment about her. The expressions on their faces displayed for each other and for the world a relationship of joyless conflict. 

The wisdom of God in Colossians 3 commands we Christians to put on as God’s beloved people set apart from the world “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). Our Christian relationships, especially our marriages, are to be a place for “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (3:13). Husbands, love your wives by leading this bearing with your wives. Lead in forgiveness from a compassionate heart of kindness, humility, meekness, and patience with her. Wives, you are not to be in competition with your husbands, but in the fitting of God’s pleasure, submit to your husband with the same Spirit given character.

Our conflicts arise, not because of our disagreeable spouses, but sin in our own hearts. God told Eve after the Fall in Genesis 3 that the wife’s desire will be the competition to be like her husband, desiring to lead, and her husband’s response will be to lord it over her. The hope of the marriage of Adam and Eve which was broken by sin came in the previous verse: a Messiah will come and crush the head of the serpent. The Lord has forgiven us through Jesus whose heal was bruised to crush the serpent’s head, so wives peacefully submit to your husbands as fitting to the Lord and husbands love your wives without lording over them. 

Since the Fall in the Garden, every marriage is the fitting of two sinners in need of grace. You enter sin in your marriage as does your spouse. Worldly marriages display joyless competition and conflict, making comments of each other where they can do nothing right. No encouragement. No peace. Bitterness and preference rule the hearts in conflict. Confess your sin of competition and pride of heart to your spouse and seek Christ to bear with each other in His peace to rule in your hearts (3:15). Put on Christ’s love “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). Anything in contrary to this command of God upon our Christian relationships, especially our marriages, is sin to be repented of.
Heavenly Father, forgive us of hearts ruled by pride, competition, and preference. May our hearts be ruled by Christ’s peace, our relationships a display of Your love, and our marriages point to Christ’s relationship to His bride, the church. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Made Useful by the Master


“If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” -II Timothy 2:21

As I sit beside this rushing mountain creek near Pine Mountain in Kentucky, my mind is filled with the wonder that every raindrop, every bead of dew has been gathered by God’s hands to form this mighty brook. Droplets united in a rushing creek has great force with it, and its loud surge makes beautiful music.

To be a worker approved by God, the Christian is to rightly handle the Bible which leads to godliness, not to use the Bible to promote ungodliness like godless chatter (II Timothy 2:15-16). Such ungodly misuse of the Bible winds up in conversations in the church which upsets their faith (17-18). The community of God’s people is encouraged and built up by the Christian who is useful to the Master.

We tend to think of our usefulness as being needed. This seems to be a real temptation for a pastor like me. Yet, here I am on vacation, away from the flock I love and am called to lead. The church family gathered and was fed His Word rightly handled (thank you Pastor Stephen!). God does not need me, but He still uses me. God does not need you, but He still uses you. Much like former slave Onesimus’ return to his master Philemon, we have become useful by God’s hands and gathered into His church as family much like His gathering of droplets to form a mighty brook.

I want to be a useful pastor to you all in the service of my Savior. I pray you would like to be a vessel for honorable use and useful to the Master, as well. Our usefulness is not in our perceived neededness, but in our obedience to God. God sovereignly called us together, gathering us droplets and making us useful. Our usefulness is our readiness to serve Him in His church, and our readiness is found in His Holy Spirit’s fruitfulness in our holy character of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let us be made useful to our Lord by our love and service to one another.

Spurgeon once said, “The most useful members of a church are usually those who would be doing harm if they were not doing good.” Whatever holds us back from His good service is to be repented of. Let me not grow weary doing good, Lord. By the might of Your hand, let us all not grow weary. I pray He blesses us with rich mercies to continue our obedience in His “one another” commands. Such a force of gathered saints has a loud surge making beautiful music to the glory of God.
Heavenly Father, You have called us to be holy as You are holy. Fit us for heaven by fitting us for useful service here, Lord. Thank You for Your precious Word where You feed our souls hungry for righteousness. Bless us, O Lord, for Your name’s sake. Amen.