Suffering and Psalm 63

If you are suffering today, or this week, or this year, and you haven’t spent time in Psalm 63 recently, I encourage you to do it! David’s words are refreshingly realistic and filled with hope and God-centered joy in the midst of dryness and weariness. On the Desiring God website, staff writer Marshall Segal has written a helpful meditation upon this psalm entitled, “The Joy We Know Only in Suffering.” Make use of it as you walk through the wildernesses. God is present even there, and our longing for Him demonstrates how satisfying He is.

Thanks to ruling elder Adam Adcock for recommending this article.

What Is Missing In Much Of The Church Today?

The fruit of the Spirit is not love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. That’s right. This is not what the fruit of the Spirit is. There is something missing in this list. Did you catch it? It is often one of the most overlooked character qualities that we miss today in America and in the Church. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Gentleness is not something we typically gravitate towards in the American Church today. We often think that a church needs to be strong, loud, relevant, loving, wise, but not gentle.

Dane Ortlund has written a great piece on this theme of gentleness. Ortlund sees the undervaluing of gentleness, especially in men, as he writes, “As we picture what it means to man up and be a leader in the home and in the church, gentleness isn’t, for many of us, a defining element of that picture.” When we think of raising our boys into real men in an age that has redefined what manhood is, do we emphasize gentleness? Here is a larger excerpt from Ortlund’s article:

The way forward isn’t by choosing gentleness over against manliness, but by rightly defining manliness according to Jesus Christ. After all, if anyone was ever a man, a true man, he is. And while he could drive money changers from the temple, he also delighted to gather up into his arms the little children whom his disciples tried to send away (Matt. 19:13–15). He dealt gently with outsiders. He wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35). He welcomed healthy, manly physical affection with his dear disciples. The apostle John, for example, was (to translate the text literally) “reclining . . . at Jesus’s bosom” (John 13:23—the very relationship said to exist between Jesus and the Father earlier in John 1:18).

The supreme display of Jesus’s manhood, however, was in his sacrificial laying down of his life on behalf of his bride, the church. When the apostle Paul defines what it means to be a husband, he can speak simultaneously of the husband’s headship and also the husband’s sacrificial, Christlike laying down of his life on behalf of his bride (Eph. 5:25–33). Such sacrifice isn’t unmanly: it’s the supreme display of masculinity.

Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving “leader.” Only a true man can be gentle.

This article is definitely worth a read. For the link, click here.

Technology, Idolatry, and Eternal Life

Paul is clear in Romans 1 - if we don’t worship the one true Creator God, we will worship the creation. One way that idolatry is manifested today is in the secular search for eternal life - not found through faith in Jesus Christ, but through faith in technology. Technology leaders in America are on the hunt for a cure for death, and they are willing to sacrifice huge amounts of money to find the secret elixer that will allow them to live forever, according to Jacob Banas, author of “Disrupting the Reaper: Tech Titans’ Quest for Immortality Rages Forward.” Banas references an article about Christianity in Silicon Valley that observes, “Traditional religion in the Bay Area is being replaced with another sort of faith, a belief in the power of technology and science to save humanity.” Banas comments, “Combine this new governing philosophy (what others have called a “religion of technology“) with leaders who are too young to find peace in the concept of death and who haven’t experienced the kinds of traumas that might inoculate them against some of that fear? You get a perfect storm of longevity obsession.”

God tells us that He has set eternity in the hearts of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Made in his image, and created with a soul that will never die, Christians understand that the desire to live forever is not wrong. The problem is that because of Adam’s sin, death has entered the world. There is no escaping the grim reaper, for “it has been appointed for the die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Every single person will live forever, in a body - either in eternal joy on a new earth, or eternal misery in hell. What determines our destiny? The way we respond to Jesus Christ in this relatively short life. If you have friends that long to live forever, if you have friends that put their hope in technology to give them eternal life, point them to the only Savior from idolatry, the only giver of true life, Jesus the Son of God.

How Much Are Teens Bullied On Social Media?

There is no doubt that students are facing a world of trials in today’s world but one of the more common trials is the presence of bullying on social media. I have learned more and more about the presence of bullying on social media the more I have heard from our students. To be sure, we need to constantly ask our children about their presence on social media. Much of the social lives of youth today happen on the Internet which is hidden from plain sight of parents and mentors. The following is a brief excerpt of this article from The Atlantic:

No app is more integral to teens’ social lives than Instagram. While Millennials relied on Facebook to navigate high school and college, connect with friends, and express themselves online, Gen Z’s networks exist almost entirely on Instagram. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of teens use the platform, which now has more than 1 billion monthly users. Instagram allows teens to chat with people they know, meet new people, stay in touch with friends from camp or sports, and bond by sharing photos or having discussions.

But when those friendships go south, the app can become a portal of pain. According to a recent Pew survey, 59 percent of teens have been bullied online, and according to a 2017 survey conducted by Ditch the Label, a nonprofit anti-bullying group, more than one in five 12-to-20-year-olds experience bullying specifically on Instagram. “Instagram is a good place sometimes,” said Riley, a 14-year-old who, like most kids in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only, “but there’s a lot of drama, bullying, and gossip to go along with it.”

Teenagers have always been cruel to one another. But Instagram provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to do so. The velocity and size of the distribution mechanism allow rude comments or harassing images to go viral within hours. Like Twitter, Instagram makes it easy to set up new, anonymous profiles, which can be used specifically for trolling. Most importantly, many interactions on the app are hidden from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers, many of whom don’t understand the platform’s intricacies.  

For the full article, click here.

New Resource: RYM Student Podcast

Our very own John Perritt has launched a new podcast for RYM aimed at students. Parents and mentors can use this resource to listen to with their kids, small groups can use this to launch into a good discussion, and students can listen to it in the car on the way to and from school. These short podcasts will answer such questions as:

  • Who is Jesus?

  • What has Jesus done for us?

  • What is my purpose in life?

  • What is mercy?

  • What is the Bible?

  • How do I know God?

For more information and to listen to the podcasts, click here.

Youth Culture (October 2018)

The following is a greater list of links to articles and blog posts about Youth Culture for the month of October. Each month, I do my best to send out an email to parents about what is going on in youth culture. In order for the emails to be shorter and more concise, I am adding a more exhaustive list to the blog so that they can be more accessible.

The following are articles that are concerned with the trends and opinions of youth culture at the moment. Not every article is a endorsement of opinion but rather there will be several statements in many that I disagree with. The point for this list is NOT to promote a certain opinion (which other blog posts are for) but rather to give you a feel for what is going on in our children’s lives and their culture. This is to promote further discussion in our church body about how the gospel can change our children and their culture.

"6 Ways to Ruin Your Children" by Jeff Robinson (TGC)

The following is a helpful article by pastor Jeff Robinson. Robinson is a Senior Editor for The Gospel Coalition and pastors Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Robinson gives us six ways in which we can radically shape our children for the better (or the worse). The following is an excerpt of the article:

Those early days of parenting often involved paralyzing paranoia. Every time his pacifier hit the ground, we’d boil it for 30 minutes. Every time anyone even looked sick at church, we’d keep him home. The first time he projectile-vomited, I was certain he was dying. There were so many questions: Would he ever get over his deep anxiety at the very sight of bathwater? Was that our fault? Would he ever potty train? Did he suffer from numerous permanent phobias? Would his Christology be orthodox?

If you’ve been a parent for very long, you know of what I speak. There’s a lingering fear, a virtual psychosis, that we will permanently ruin our four children. As a father for 16 years now, I’ve come to realize that a germy pacifier or an irrational fear of thunderstorms are not signs of acute parental failure.

But there are ways you can ruin your children—subtle ways that tend to show up over time. As a parent, I’d grade myself at about a C-minus. (My wife is definitely the valedictorian between the two of us.) So here are six ways—all of which I have been guilty—that you could ruin those who bear your last name, who will someday appear on your auto insurance policy.

For the full article and 6 ways, click here.

Some helpful articles from the Gospel Reformation Network

The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) is a group within the PCA seeking to cultivate healthy Reformed churches within our denomination, and several articles they have posted lately do a great job of addressing some issues the PCA is engaging right now:

  • Dr. Jon Payne, the GRN Convener, has written a beautiful case for “Cultivating the Bonds of Peace within the PCA.” An excerpt: "When it comes to disagreeing with brothers over denominational issues, many of us can relate to Paul’s expression: “I do not do what I want, but often the very thing that I hate” (Rom. 7:15). We know deep down that we should engage in humble and open dialogue with the “other side”, and yet we largely dwell in the comfortable and affirming echo-chambers of our own tribe. We lob impulsive (often harsh) verbal grenades on social media. We convince ourselves that no benefit will come from meeting with one another. What’s the use? It’s just easier for everyone if we simply keep our distance. But God calls us to something different, doesn’t He? That’s why I was grateful to receive an invitation to meet for dinner in Nashville, Tennessee with several PCA teaching and ruling elders from differing perspectives within our denomination."

  • GRN Council Member David Strain provides a serious and tenderhearted pastoral letter to a fictitious congregation member, "Thomas," who is dealing with same-sex attraction. This piece will be immensely helpful to pastor and church member alike: "Dear Thomas, A Pastoral Approach to Dealing with Same Sex Attraction." 

  • GRN Council Member Rick Phillips on Revoice and the alleged "Idolatry" of the Nuclear Family

  • GRN Council Member Harry Reeder offering his analysis of the Revoice Conference in "Revoice or God's Voice?"

  • RTS Jackson Professor Dr. Guy Waters provides an insightful linguistic and exegetical analysis on key Greek terms used by the Apostle Paul in I Cor. 6:9. The meaning and definition of this verse and its vocabulary has been called into serious question in recent times. Dr. Waters offers a clear, yet compassionate, rejoinder in "Paul’s Understanding of Sexuality: μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται in 1 Cor 6:9."

Quick Thoughts: Prayer

I am going to begin a series of short blog posts on various subjects of the Christian Life. My goal is to give you some short, concise answers to basic, and often forgotten, questions to these various subjects. Lord willing, this will help us come back to a basic understanding of why we do certain things, to what end, and simply how to do them. In this first post on “Quick Thoughts”, I want to address the topic of Prayer. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, here we go:

  1. What is prayer? Prayer is the breath of a soul that is alive to God; if we are alive unto we pray. Prayer is overflow of the heart to the God who cares for you. Prayer is the cry of a dependent child for a powerful and sufficient Father who desires to provide abundantly for His children. Prayer is when we bow, not simply in posture but in the heart, to the one true God who hears us when we call out to Him in the name of Jesus. Prayer is the burden that the Holy Spirit places in the Christian in order that they might live unto God. Simply put, prayer is voicing adoration, confession of sin, thanksgivings, and needs of all kind to the Almighty God. Prayer is not speaking to the open sky or talking to ourselves in hope that someone somewhere with some omnipotence might hear us. Prayer is addressing God in faith that He hears, responds, and gives us what we need. Prayer is the response of the heart of faith to the promises given to us in Christ. Prayer happens after we read the Scriptures. It is when we read the Word of God that we then respond to Him. True prayer happens after reading the Word. John 15:7 says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Matthew 6:6 tells us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Again we see in Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

  2. Why pray? Prayer is the heart of dependence on God. We see the curse of sin manifest itself in our pursuit for independence. In our pursuit of independence, we are like a flower trying to live without roots. We are like a newborn baby refusing her mother. We pray when we realize that we need help. God created man in order to live in dependence upon Him and this dependence was part of what was good in the Garden of Eden when there was no sin. Prayer brings us back to who we were meant to be—creatures living in dependence upon their Creator. Prayer brings joy to the saddened soul. Prayer brings hope in the face of despair. Prayer brings intimacy when loneliness prevails in the world. Why pray? Because in prayer we draw near to God. Maybe the question could be restated this way: Why draw near to God? Prayer, at its core, is the sinner drawing near to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit with the confidence that this Triune God will satisfy my deepest longings. Prayer is not calling out to a genie in order to be satisfied merely in what he gives me. The goal of prayer is to have God Himself as my chief joy. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 also says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

  3. To whom do we pray? Primarily, the model that Jesus gives us is to pray to the Father but certainly the entire Trinity is always involved. Matthew 6:9 begins, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” Jesus came to reveal the Father to us and to bring us to the Father by His person and work. We certainly pray, and should pray, to Jesus Himself and to the Holy Spirit. All persons of the Trinity are equal yet distinct—nevertheless, they are One God, not three. It is a helpful reminder that Jesus tells us to primarily address the person of the Father.

  4. In what manner should we pray? We should pray with reverence and awe. Let us beware of beginning prayer flippantly with, “Hey God!” Let us also, even, think more of beginning prayer more so with the thought of our Father being Holy. It is the knowledge that we have of God that drives how we pray. Let us not forget that our God is a consuming fire and that He is Holy, Holy, Holy. If the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the LORD (Prov 1:7) then let us not abandon the beginning of knowledge with that activity which we should attend to most in the Christian life. We must have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace but that throne of grace never extinguishes the attribute of God’s Holiness. The throne of grace should give the weakest child boldness and joy to approach his heavenly Father in prayer but that child must still remember that God is God. Confidence in Christ and Fear of the LORD are not butting heads in prayer like two brothers fighting over the last chocolate chip cookie. Neither one is competing against the other but rather they work together like how salt can enhance the taste of the sugar on a chocolate chip cookie (can you tell what I’m craving for a snack right now?). Prayer should be in dependent fear and love for God. Whenever God showed people His glory in a more manifest way they fell down. Even when Peter recognized who Jesus was in the boat he fell down and asked to be away from His presence. Yes, they loved God and God loved them but this love of God is so holy that it should bring us redeemed sinners to our knees in humility and fear of the heart. God is the One who runs towards us and we should run towards Him but this never negates His Holiness and Majesty.

  5. What should we pray for? Let us take an inventory of our prayers individually and corporately. What percentage of our prayer requests primarily focus on the bodily and physical needs and how much focus on the needs of the soul? To be clear, we are made up of body AND soul. The needs of the body are real and constant. We must pray for the physical needs around us but we must not ONLY pray for the physical needs around us. It does not make someone “extra spiritual” if they never pray for physical needs. Rather, one might question that person’s understanding of the image of God. Nevertheless, we can say the same for those who neglect the matters of the soul.

    When we have a prayer meeting, how often do we pray for the following: conversion, revival, growth in holiness, richer devotional lives, patience, love for others, understanding of the Scriptures, more of a desire to pray, zeal for evangelism, protection against false teachers, more earnestness to repent of the idols of the heart? Are we so earthly minded that we totally neglect the primary need for sinners to have faith and repentance? Our prayer requests, as an individual and as a congregation, will reflect the priorities of our hearts. Do we only pray for the physical because we want life to be comfortable? Brothers and sisters, we must pray for the things that concern the body but never at the expense of praying for souls to be saved from the eternal wrath of God, for exponential growth in holiness amidst an evil age, greater fruit of the Holy Spirit, richer community in the church, and certainly (although one of the most neglected) the need for true God-centered revival. We must pray for the preaching of the Word as much as we pray for safe travels. We must pray for the lost in our neighborhoods as much as we pray for the healing of the body. We must pray for endurance amidst persecution as much as we pray for good grades, politics, injuries, upcoming tests and meetings, healthy children, and the other often brought up items (which are NEVER too small to pray for).

    Please hear me, our lack of praying for the small things shows our misunderstanding of a God so sovereign and caring that He notices the way ants work and lilies grow. We must also understand that our lack of praying for the Holy Spirit to powerfully attend the preaching of the Word every week shows our great misunderstanding that our greatest need is to hear the words of the gospel of God by the power of the Spirit and that if we do not hear then it matters not if we gain the entire world because we will lose our soul. Pray for all things, body and soul (for both are important), but what a grave danger we fall into when we never pray for the soul.

  6. When should we pray? Maybe a better question could be: When can we pray? We can pray at all times. Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). We can pray before we eat and we can pray before surgery. We can pray in the middle of having a tough conversation with someone and we can pray while putting our children to bed. We can pray in business meetings and we can pray during a commercial break. We can and should pray at all times for that is what a praying life is. It is not literally only praying at all times but rather it is having a life of communication with God throughout the day. We should pray much spontaneously (for God does hear and loves these prayers) but we should never neglect the practice of “still” prayer. What I mean is that we must set aside some times in order to be still and know that the LORD is God. In our busy times, this might be the most neglected and the most needed spiritual discipline. We should put things to rest, turn over our phones and silence them, gather our thoughts and lift up our concerns to God. Leave the busyness of life for a period of time and come before the LORD to find rest. Find this time in the morning before the kids get up, first thing when you walk in the office, on your walks, when you put the kids down for a nap, before bed, or during lunch (don’t forget that it was in 19th Century that New York had a true Spirit-sent revival all surrounding the lunch time prayer meeting). You will not find time unless you make time. If prayer is the breathing of the soul that is alive unto God then prayerlessness is the evidence of the soul that wants to commit spiritual suicide or the evidence of the soul that is not alive in the first place. Let us not fool ourselves here: Christians pray. Some pray more than others and that makes no one more special and loved by God more than others. Beware: those who think that prayer earns their righteousness before God are in danger for their soul. But let us not fool ourselves, especially in our Southern context, that we can believe the gospel and not pray. Indeed, what is the first movement of the redeemed sinner towards God but that of prayer? The Spirit produces living water in the soul of the man or woman, and church, that is alive unto God. Water that flows into any pipe system must find its way out or the pipes will burst. If there is not water exiting the pipes and no bursting of the pipes then there is no flowing water.

  7. What are some practical ways to develop a life of prayer? This could be an endless list but maybe some of these suggestions will help or spur on some thoughts to other ideas:

    1. During devotions, prayer before starting and pray after finishing.

    2. Take a car ride a day to turn off the radio in order to pray.

    3. Pause to pray between meetings, classes, assignments, chores.

    4. Designate a prayer “station” or a prayer “closet” so that there can be a regular place in which you pause to only pray.

    5. Set your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier. As you wait for the coffee to finish brewing, open your Bible and pray a certain Psalm.

    6. Don’t neglect praying before meals. Let it remind you and those around you that greater tastes and satisfactions are in the Lord.

    7. Pray with your spouse and/or children before bed.

    8. Read good books on prayer. Here are some very helpful ones:

      1. Tim Keller “Prayer”

      2. David Mathis “Habits of Grace”

      3. John Bunyan “Prayer”

      4. Michael Reeves “Enjoy your prayer life”

      5. Andrew Murray “With Christ in the School of Prayer”

      6. Banner of Truth “Valley of Vision”

    9. Keep a list on your phone or notebook of things to pray for.

    10. Keep a journal that records the answers to prayer.

    11. Read prayers (such as Valley of Vision)

    12. Sing prayers. Remember, the greatest hymns were often first prayers.

    13. Put reminders on your phone or calendar. Schedule your prayer time.

    14. Pick a prayer partner.

    15. Attend evening worship where we pray as a congregation after voicing the needs around us.

    16. Start a prayer meeting (not a prayer request meeting or a Bible study about prayer where you only briefly pray at the end) where you actually spend the majority of the time praying.

    17. Remember, there are no prayer professionals. This often hinders people from praying.

    18. The Spirit is wise enough to sort out your jumbled thoughts so do not be afraid to pray for things as they come to mind.

    19. Remind yourself of the promises of God—primarily the promise that He hears you.

    20. Read good stories and books on revival. Revival is never separated from prayer.

How Porn Affects Missions

As a church that sends, supports, and prays for several missionaries, it is worth asking the following: Does pornography affect the mission field? Is the widespread use of pornography “sidelining” potential missionaries (and even local missions in our neighborhood)? Greg Handley, church planter and writer for the International Mission Board, seeks to address this question in his article. The following is an excerpt:

I know the statistics point to how pornography isn’t merely a male problem. I understand, but I also have worked among young men enough to know this problem has reached epidemic proportions. Years ago, John Piper coined that paradigm-shifting statement about missions in Let the Nations Be Glad: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Among young, Christian men who don’t show concern for the nations, I’ve come to wonder if it could be said that porn lurks where missions doesn’t.

Here is my plea to porn-strugglers: not merely for your sake, for their sake—for the unreached nations of the world—get help. Pornography sidelines you when the nations need you. I want to help you realize the soul-conditioning effect of pornography in a way you may not have seen it before, particularly as it relates to missions. My aim is for this brief article to be a healing wound that sets a new trajectory in your pursuit of purity.

For the rest of the short article, click here.

Are Selfies Really Harmful?

A fellow youth worker in Mississippi sent me this article earlier this week about selfies. Naturally, I had my gracious wife read me "the important parts" so that I could digest it on my own in quicker time. Even from her brief skims and my bad listening, this was a confirmation of what we already knew. 

The following is a brief part of the conclusion to the study about selfie and young women. "This is the first study to show experimentally that selfie posting on social media is harmful in terms of young women’s mood and self-image. Being able to retouch or modify their photo did not result in women feeling better about themselves after posting a selfie to social media. Future research should look at the longer-term effects of posting photos of oneself on social media, which is an increasingly common aspect of contemporary media use."

Read the about the study here. Warning: this is not for the weary readers (aka it's long but you can skim it for the "good stuff").

Reflections on the Psalms

In preparation for our recent concert on the Psalms, I asked the members of the choir to write down which Psalm is their favorite and why. Their comments were so encouraging that I thought you all would like the opportunity to read some of them.  The choir as a whole was blessed in our preparation for the concert as we sang the words of Psalms 98, 121, 23, 130, 51and 84 over and over again each week. Familiarity brought warmth and life to the words as they increasingly became a part of us.  We encountered the joy of praising the Lord with His own words, the deep wells of lament, the brokenness of repentance, and we were renewed in our confidence in the Lord of Hosts, our Shepherd, our Refuge, our Helper and Keeper. Here are some thoughts on particular Psalms.  Which Psalm is your favorite?                                        

Psalm 1
Debbie Barnes

Psalm 1 has probably been my favorite psalm since college.  I have enjoyed singing it in church, over the years, as the familiar words are always new and refreshing to me. In the Psalm, the writer contrasts the righteous and the wicked.  He gives us two vivid examples to ponder.  I was reminded of these verses recently when we were in the country.  Standing in a field, I plucked a head of wheat to see what the seeds looked like. No sooner than I had it in my hand, the chaff started blowing in all directions.   Immediately, I thought of this verse – “But they (the wicked) are like chaff which the wind blows away”. (v.4)  Then, as I looked at the trees around me, I was reminded of this verse: “He (the righteous) will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (V.3) In summary, “The way of the wicked will perish,” (v.6), “But blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (v. 1&2) In Neil’s wedding band are inscribed in two words – Psalm One.

Psalm 51
Christy Walker

Psalm 51 has always been special to me.  Many of us know the story of David and Bathsheba and how God sent Nathan to bring David to repentance.  Well, I have my own “Nathan” in my life.  My sophomore year at MSU, I was going through some very difficult times, slipping into depression and wanting to control areas that I couldn’t control.  That spring, I sat down in my new history class and recognized a girl that had also been in my previous semester’s class.  One day this girl said, “I think you live by me.”  You may be thinking that this would be common on a university campus.  However, no one could see my apartment from the road.  You literally had to know that the apartment existed to say you knew where I lived.  What evolved from that statement was a friendship.  What came from that friendship was an invitation to RUF where I heard the Gospel for the first time.  I had “graced” the pews of a church my entire life (Free Will Baptist) but I didn’t know Christ.  I don’t know how long after I started attending RUF that I had the “infamous” Brian Habig (RUF campus minister) talk.  He had a gift for really getting to the heart of the issue.  I remember sitting in the middle of the university bakery with tears streaming down my face. There I realized that I didn’t need the world or society to define who I was or where my hope/freedom should be; only through Christ could I find true freedom and security.  This was the turning point in my life. Today, as I reflect, I am amazed to think about how our Sovereign God literally placed Amy in two of my classes at such a precise moment in my life, how I just “happened” to start renting an apartment from the Eshee family, and how Amy literally lived right around the corner from me. All these details are not by chance.  I also can’t help but be in awe that when so many in my family are unbelievers, God chose me!!!!  Amy is my “Nathan” and I pray that one day I may be someone else’s “Nathan.”

Psalm 88
Mary Hope Bryant

Psalm 88 is an unusual “favorite psalm” because it is kind of depressing, but that is why I love it. The speaker, though he is a believer, feels lonely, abandoned by his friends, guilty, overwhelmed, and even assaulted by God. He sees no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope to ease his suffering. In fact, the psalm ends by saying, “You (God) have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; darkness is my only companion.” He knows God is gracious, wonderful, wise, etc. He is aware of the fact that God is a source of comfort and mercy to the troubled. But his experience is the opposite. And yet - God could put that believer’s experience in Scripture because, despite what the speaker felt at that moment (however long that moment was), God had guaranteed hope for him in Jesus Christ. I am thankful for this honest, despairing believer’s song, because I have had periods in my life in which I was not cognizant of God’s grace and care, and in which I felt incapable of escaping my own sin. This psalm reassures me that those experiences do not change God’s great love for me or his salvation of my soul. Instead, in ways beyond my understanding, they are actually part of his gracious provision, and no amount of weakness on my part can change the fact that he loves me and has redeemed my soul for his eternal kingdom.

 Psalm 23
Jackie Shelt

Many entire books have been written about the beauty and truth of Psalm 23 so speaking about it in 2-3 minutes is like having a quarter of one of those little Sam's quiches and calling it an appetizer.  But here is a taste for you to meditate on and consider later.  Psalm 23 is my favorite Psalm not just because it is true, beautiful, and comforting.  It is all those things. But even more because in six short and beautifully crafted verses it encompasses the entire gospel and the entire Christian life.  It speaks of the shepherd meeting my deepest need:  soul restoration--which Christ purchased for me by walking through the Valley of the Shadow of death.  It speaks of the shepherd's work in my sanctification, leading me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his great name and glory.  It speaks of the glorious ending--which is the real beginning--dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.  Consider too the position and presence of our good shepherd, Immanuel:  leading us in paths of righteousness, with us in the Valley of the Shadow, pursuing us with his goodness and mercy, and ultimately allowing us redeemed sinners to sit at his victorious banquet table in the presence of His and our enemies, declaring for all eternity:  "She's with me."   In my own wobbly and storm-tossed journey to the Celestial City, God has used these magnificent words which signify wonderful solid realities to lead, keep, pursue, strengthen, comfort, discipline, and rescue me.  

John Calvin on the Beauty and Advantages of the Psalms

We are beginning a new Sunday evening sermon series on some selected Psalms this coming Lord's Day. In my preparation this week for the introductory sermon, I read again John Calvin's preface to his commentary on the Psalms. I encourage you to read it for yourself, so that you might be spurred on to spend more time in God's hymnal:

The varied and resplendent riches which are contained in this treasure it is no easy matter to express in words; so much so, that I well know that whatever I shall be able to say will be far from approaching the excellence of the subject. But as it is better to give my readers some taste, however small, of the wonderful advantages they will derive from the study of this book, than to be entirely silent on the point, I may be permitted briefly to advert to a matter, the greatness of which does not admit of being fully unfolded.

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, "An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;" for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. The other parts of Scripture contain the commandments which God enjoined his servants to announce to us. But here the prophets themselves, seeing they are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particular, in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the man vices with which we abound, may remain concealed. It is certainly a rare and singular advantage, when all lurking places are discovered, and the heart is brought into the light, purged from that most baneful infection, hypocrisy. In short, as calling upon God is one of the principal means of securing our safety, and as a better and more unerring rule for guiding us in this exercise cannot be found elsewhere than in the Psalms, it follows, that in proportion to the proficiency which a man shall have attained in understanding them, will be his knowledge of the most important part of celestial doctrine.

Genuine and earnest prayer proceeds first from a sense of our need, and next, from faith in the promises of God. It is by perusing these inspired compositions, that men will be most effectually awakened to a sense of their maladies, and, at the same time, instructed in seeking remedies for their cure. In a word, whatever may serve to encourage us when we are about to pray to God, is taught us in this book. And not only are the promises of God presented to us in it, but oftentimes there is exhibited to us one standing, as it were, amidst the invitations of God on the one hand, and the impediments of the flesh on the other, girding and preparing himself for prayer: thus teaching us, if at any time we are agitated with a variety of doubts, to resist and fight against them, until the soul, freed and disentangled from all these impediments, rise up to God; and not only so, but even when in the midst of doubts, fears, and apprehensions, let us put forth our efforts in prayer, until we experience some consolation which may calm and bring contentment to our minds. Although distrust may shut the gate against our prayers, yet we must not allow ourselves to give way, whenever our hearts waver or are agitated with inquietude, but must persevere until faith finally come forth victorious from these conflicts.

In many places we may perceive the exercise of the servants of God in prayer so fluctuating, that they are almost overwhelmed by the alternate hope of success and apprehension of failure, and gain the prize only by strenuous exertions. We see on the one hand, the flesh manifesting its infirmity; and on the other, faith putting forth its power; and if it is not so valiant and courageous as might be desired, it is at least prepared to fight until by degrees it acquire perfect strength. But as those things which serve to teach us the true method of praying aright will be found scattered through the whole of this Commentary, I will not now stop to treat of topics which it will be necessary afterwards to repeat, nor detain my readers from proceeding to the work itself. Only it appeared to me to be requisite to show in passing, that this book makes known to us this privilege, which is desirable above all others - that not only is there opened up to us familiar access to God, but also that we have permission and freedom granted us to lay open before him our infirmities, which we would be ashamed to confess before men.

Besides, there is also here prescribed to us an infallible rule for directing us with respect to the right manner of offering to God the sacrifice of praise, which he declares to be most precious in his sight, and of the sweetest odor. There is no other book in which there is to be found more express and magnificent commendations, both of the unparalleled liberality of God towards his Church, and of all his works; there is no other book in which there is recorded so many deliverances, nor one in which the evidences and experiences of the father providence and solicitude which God exercises towards us, are celebrated with such splendor of diction, and yet with the strictest adherence to truth; in short, there is no other book in which we are more perfectly taught the right manner of praising God, or in which we are more powerfully stirred up to the performance of this religious exercise.

Moreover, although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross; and the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him. In one word, not only will we here find general commendations of the goodness of God, which may teach men to repose themselves in him alone, and to seek all their happiness solely in him; and which are intended to teach true believers with their whole hearts confidently to look to him for help in all their necessities; but we will also find that the free remission of sins, which alone reconciles God towards us, and procures for us settled peace with him, is so set forth and magnified, as that here there is nothing wanting which relates to the knowledge of eternal salvation.

Edward Dering's Gospel Prayer

Edward Dering, an English Puritan who lived from 1540-1576, offered this prayer as a summary of the truth of the catechism he had written for the people of God during the days of Queen Elizabeth. It is rich in gospel experience, and keeps before our eyes those three most important realities: guilt, grace, and gratitude (or if you prefer your theology to start with the letter "R," ruin, redemption, and restoration). Use it as you prepare for worship on the Lord's Day!

O merciful and heavenly Father, since at every light occasion, I am withdrawn from your holy laws, to the vanities of this life, unto all sin and wickedness; I beseech you in mercy set before my eyes always the remembrance of your judgment seat, and my last end: whereby I may be daily stirred up to consider in what great danger I stand, through the horrible punishment due to my sins: that daily groaning under the burden of them, I may fly for succor to your beloved son Jesus Christ, who has fully paid, suffered & overcome the punishment due to them: and through the working of your holy Spirit in me, I may be fully assured in my soul and conscience, that the curse, condemnation, and death which these my sins deserve, is fully paid, suffered, and overcome in Christ, that his righteousness, obedience, and holiness is mine, and whatsoever he has wrought for man’s salvation is wholly mine.

Strengthen this faith in me daily more and more, that I may inwardly feel comfort and consolation in this, that I feel your holy Spirit bear record unto my spirit, that I am your child, grafted into the body of your Son, and made with him fellow heir of your everlasting kingdom. So work in me by your holy Spirit, that daily more and more I may feel sin die in me, that I do not delight therein, but daily may groan under the burden thereof, utterly hate, detest, and loath sin, set myself and all the powers of my soul and body against sin, and have my full delight, joy, comfort, and pleasure in those things which be agreeable to your will, that I may walk as becomes the Children of light, looking still for that good time, which it shall please you to call me to your everlasting kingdom, and joy eternal. This in mercy grant unto me for Jesus Christ’s sake, my only Lord and Savior, Amen.

The Rest of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

In Matthew 11:28-30 we read these amazing words of Jesus: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." What a glorious invitation! Invitations to great events or from remarkable people are treasured - and in these words God's Son bids us to come to Him. It is an invitation to be with Him, to be loved as His treasured possession. Do we slow down long enough to hear and accept the invitation, and to go to Him?

Notice first to whom this invitation is given: to the weary, the burdened, the anxious, the troubled - "all who labor and are heavy laden." Which of us does not qualify? All who feel upon our hearts the load, the weight of our own selfishness, our own pride, our own grieving of God, are invited to come. All who feel the load of the world's suffering and grief, the anxiousness of unknown days to come, the weight of a long standing unabating sorrow, the weight of our longings for the not-yet of God's providences, are invited to come. We who know these things in the depths of our heart are bid by the Son of God to fall upon His breast.

See secondly the promise to obtain: rest. Jesus declares, "I will give you rest...you will find rest for your souls." What a priceless promise and gift laid out for us! It is an ark of refuge for the weary, like Noah's ark for the dove. The Lord Jesus is our ark, our refuge, our rest. He promises us the rest of a real, personal, intimate, divine friendship of redeeming affection. He promises to love us utterly and unalterably!

Observe thirdly the means of the promised rest: we must take Jesus' yoke upon ourselves and learn of Him. Every other yoke about your heart - the lesser loves we foolishly crave - will make you even more weary. But Christ's yoke of free grace restores, enlivens, and lifts up. He calls us to yield our souls to His character and righteousness. His yoke is always in our favor and for our good.

Finally, note the way in which Jesus woos us to Himself: "For I am gentle and lowly in heart." How slow we are to believe this about our Savior! He who is the Sovereign King, is also gentle and humble of heart. This is the only place in Scripture where the "heart" of Christ is actually mentioned - and it is a gentle and a lowly heart.

So the question is before you: are you coming to Jesus for rest? Take heart, weary believer! Whoever comes to Jesus, He will in no way cast you out (John 6:37)! Come to Him this day and find rest for your souls!

Dear POPC, May I Encourage You?

It has been two full years since my wife and I arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, after spending the previous academic year in the greater Boston area during my first year of seminary at Gordon-Conwell. We came to Pear Orchard not just because of a job but because of the reputation of the church community. We went through a little bit of a tough season in Boston and what we desired most was to find spiritual refreshment in the means of grace among a loving and welcoming congregation. After two years, we have realized that we have found that in Pear Orchard.

One of the aspects that tend to stand out in Christians who believe in a robust and Reformed, biblical doctrine of sin is that of conviction. We are skilled in the art of finding out what is wrong about us. Yes, there are many ways in which we do not realize the extent in which our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9), but there is certainly a solid belief in the need to feel conviction. This often leads us to reflect critically and thoughtfully on how we do as a church. Are we welcoming to our visitors or are we stand-off-ish? Do we go out of our way to have deeper conversations with fringe attendees or do we stick to the typical, "How are you doing? I'm doing just fine; how about you?" type conversations?

I have heard many comments that sound like the following:

"We need to make sure we do _______ better."

"What we're really missing at POPC is _____."

"I think we are really slacking off in [insert this aspect of the church]."

While these are very helpful and needful reflections that we need to have as a congregation, we also need to remember to bring up that which we are doing well. It might be easier for me to do because of the fact that my wife and I are still relatively new to the Jackson-Ridgeland area. Although I surely consider this church "home", I also think I can still give helpful feedback as a newer member. There are plenty of times that Paul encourages his congregations as he writes to them. In his fantastic book, "The Heart is the Target," Murray Capill writes about the importance of encouraging people in our sermons and not merely exhorting, teaching, and convicting them. After commenting that "the greatest aid to progress is genuine encouragement," Capill says:

"If we take our lead from Paul, then, we will at times tell our congregation how much we love them and how we miss them when we are away; we will tell them of how encouraged we are by their gospel work and how thankful we are for their ministry; we will tell them about what we pray for them; we will tell them of ways in which we see them as wonderful examples to others; we will publicly praise God for them and for his work of grace among them."

So please, let me encourage you.

The moment that we stepped into the doors of POPC, the pastoral staff and congregation have bestowed upon us the type of hospitality that only grace-filled believers could exhibit. You did not know us or our families. We did not go to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Mississippi College, or [insert you college here] with any of you but you took us in as if we were closer than friends, as if we were family in Christ. We are not from Jackson or Mississippi but you welcomed us as citizens of a greater land. We came in as total strangers seeking refuge in Christ with a like-minded community.

We have been blown away at the frequent invitations from you for meals, Bible studies, and community. There have been gifts to help us move into Jackson and get settled in. There have been texts, calls, and emails that have encouraged us. There have been jokes, hugs, and prayers for us when we needed them. One would think that maybe this was merely a temporary welcome to us POPC and to the Jackson area, but we would find out over time that this was not the case. 

It seems to be that there is real fruit of the Spirit here at POPC. Genuine fruit is tested whenever visitors become members and regulars. Ever since we have become members and regulars, there has been no shortage in the amount of outreach that you have extended to us. There has been no "They have had enough of our love" attitude among you. Rather than your love having a big, bright, but short flame, your love to us has only steadily grown towards us. We do not feel like we have been kept at arms length but rather have been brought in as a father brings us his newborn child. 

Dear Pear Orchard, we have seen your love, your grace, your fervor, and your desire to grow. We have witnessed your zeal to welcome visitors. We have noticed your urgency to reflect the kingdom of heaven in its diversity. We hope you see them as well.

As an athlete who has been through two surgeries to repair bones and ligaments, it is often very difficult to see your own progression. Often times, it is the physical therapists and the surgeons who notice it in more detail as they examine you. I hope this is a helpful and encouraging perspective for you.

Do not lose your zeal. Do not fail to extend bread to the hungry. Do not give up on the wayward. Do not desert your prayer closets. Do not close your Bibles. Keep going. You are bearing fruit whether you realize it or not. Grace and I are not the only ones who notice your fruit. Often times when I am at the seminary, on youth retreats, or at conferences, we are not the only ones who brag about you but rather your reputation has extended further than we go and the people we meet praise God because of you. So please, keep standing out as Christians - people who love others in the name of Jesus. 

Coming to Jackson has been fresh balm to our souls. It has been cold water after a hot season. We have both been strengthened in the call to ministry and certainly the call to minister at POPC. Love begets love and that has certainly been the case here. Today is an age where we shy away from others when things get messy. We live as if others' mess is red paint and we only wear white shirts. You have witnessed our mess and have embraced us in response. We have been counseled, fed, taught, mentored, helped, supported, prayed for, and taken in. 

We are blessed to minister the gospel to you and be ministered to by you. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Let us keep this as our motto. Let it be a banner for us in the days to come. 

Dear Pear Orchard, please be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is at work in you.

The Christian and the Tithe

This past Sunday evening we studied Malachi 3:7-12, the passage in which God through His prophet rebukes His people for their failure to give to Him tithes and offerings. It is perhaps hard to see what these words from the mid-400s B.C. have to do with how we spend our money today, so I want to reflect on and apply this passage to Christians living in the 21st century. First, the text:

From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi calls God's people to repent in regard to their breaking the 8th commandment - but notice that he accuses them of stealing, not from man, but from God Himself, by bringing less than the full tithe into the temple storehouse. There is much in these verses, but several things stand out:

1. The tithe belongs to the Lord, and withholding it from Him is robbing Him. A tithe is a tenth part of our income. For the Israelites, an agricultural people, this meant that they tithed seed, fruit, wine, oil, vegetables, oxen, cows, sheep (they would just line them up and count them, and every tenth one would be the Lord’s, no matter if it was the best or the worst – Lev. 27:30ff.; see Jer. 33:13). Today, as our economy has changed, we tithe money, not goods or produce. But why did God command the tithe? He did it to remind His people that all of our wealth comes from Him and is given to us as a stewardship – just as He sets one day in seven apart to remind us that all our time is His. The tithe and the Sabbath day are His in a special way, they are set apart/holy to Him. Israel was called to repent of robbing God and keeping for themselves what was rightfully His.

2. The tithe was for the provision of the work and worship of God, “so that there might be food in God’s house.” In Numbers 18, God commands that the tithe is to go to the Levites, and they in turn would tithe the tithe to the priests. The Levites had no inheritance in the Promised Land, so the rest of the people were to provide for them. God had the people of God provide for those who led the people in worship and taught them, so that the priests and Levites could devote themselves to God’s work without distraction (see Nehemiah 13:10ff.!). Israel was called to repent of keeping from the work and worship of God what was necessary for its maintenance – and the existence of a “storehouse” (a savings account) was not to stop them from making their tithes and contributions.

3. Even in the Old Covenant, the tithe was just the beginning. Israel was expected to bring tithes and contributions. A "contribution" or "offering" was a general term ranging in meaning from the tithe itself (Num. 18:24) to the part of the tithe set apart for the priest (Num. 18:26) to the offering for the priest's consecration (Exo. 25:2), to offerings for the building of the tabernacle (Exo. 25:2). It was sometimes a commanded offering, and sometimes a voluntary contribution to the Lord. So even in the days of Moses, the tithe was only a starting point for giving to the Lord. And if that was the case in the Old Covenant, how much more under the New Covenant!

It’s sometimes said that the tithe was merely a part of the Mosaic ceremonial law, no longer binding on believers after the coming of Jesus, in the New Covenant. But the first instance we see of tithing in the Bible is Abraham, who gave to Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High (Gen. 14:18-20). The OT also records Jacob as saying that he would give a tenth to God (Gen. 28:22). From the beginning of God’s people, giving a tenth to God has been a part of worship.

So often, people go to the NT and say, “See, it doesn’t say anything about tithing there.” I disagree: There are two passages that I believe clearly carry the tithe commandment into the new covenant: Matt. 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” And I Cor. 9:13-14, in which Paul argues for paying pastors on the basis of the OT principle that the tithe should provide for the needs of those teach and labor for the Lord as a vocation. Now, someone may raise the objection, "But doesn’t Paul say in II Cor. 8:8, 'I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.'? And doesn’t he say in II Corinthains 9:7, 'Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.'?" Yes, but II Corinthians 8-9 refer to a voluntary collection that he was making for the poor saints in Jerusalem; it’s an offering over and above the tithe given for the sustenance of the ministry in Corinth, as opposed to the obligatory tithe.

The reason you don’t see a lot about the tithe in the NT is because in large part the NT presupposed the tithe. And it urges Christians to be even more generous than the tithe, and even more generous than the saints in the Old Covenant. When I hear people ask, “Is the standard of giving in the NT still the tithe?” (isn’t it interesting that those who ask this are almost never looking for an excuse to give more than the tithe), my answer is, “Of course! And even in the OT they gave more than the tithe!” But my answer is also, “Of course not! Our standard is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ!” II Cor. 9:8 tells us that the Xn’s motivation and model for giving is the sacrifice of Jesus – “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Does it make any sense to think that the standard of giving after Jesus’ death would decrease from what it was before His death?

What we see in the New Testament is that the better we understand the gospel, the more generous we shall be – like Jesus, we will become poor that others may become rich. God doesn’t merely want your tithe – that’s the minimum for us like it was for OT saints – He wants your heart, your generosity and sacrifice. If you aren’t tithing, you are robbing God. God’s word to you is clear: repent! Return, humbly confessing your sin and asking God to change your heart and your financial habits. And see that repentance must start with at least a tithe.

R.C. Sproul tells of a denominational stewardship program that prompted "the crisis that awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers." The program was based on the theme, "Take a Step Toward Tithing." The idea was simple: if a person was currently giving 1% of their income they were urged to increase it to 2%, and so on down the line. Sproul said to my ministerial comrades, "I can't implement this program." Some said, "Why not? It sounds like a practical way to get people to move in the right direction in a less than severely painful way." He objected on the grounds that the program contained two serious errors: 1) it made tithing an ideal that only super-committed Christians ever reach, a zenith point of sacrificial giving; 2) it gave the tacit blessing of the church to people robbing God. It was like saying "Last year you robbed God of 9% of what you owe Him. This year please rob the Deity of merely 8%."

God expects His people to continue to tithe in the New Covenant. But we must never forget that it is possible to tithe and still be robbing God. Consider: the Pharisees tithed too – but they were unconverted, and didn’t care about the poor and needy. Their giving was all external formalism and hypocrisy; they didn’t give God their heart. You can tithe and not be converted. In addition, for some of His people, 10% isn’t much of a sacrifice. You don’t really start to feel the pinch. The question to ask is, What percentage of my income is a sacrifice? Give that. Saying to God, “Okay, here’s my 10 percent, and not a penny more” is not an acceptable offering. So repentance will be costly. Some Christians will have to sacrifice just to get to the minimum that God requires of His people. There will have to be a change in our standard of living. For increasing our giving may well mean decreasing spending somewhere else. Yet God is faithful and will work in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure; as Paul writes in II Corinthians 9:8, 11, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having a sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…[Y]ou will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.”

I haven't answered every question about tithing, or even about Malachi 3:7-12. Yet I pray that what I have written will spur you on to love and good deeds. May the Lord enable us to give generously, sacrificially, and obediently!

 

Some reasons why Christians struggle to talk about Jesus

In a recent Barna survey, adults in the US were asked why they don't more often about their faith. Here's a summary of what they found:

People who don’t talk very often about faith offer different reasons, but most of these fall into two broad categories: avoidance and ambivalence. For instance, the two avoidant responses (among the top four) given for not engaging in conversations are: “Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments” (28%) and “I’m put off by how religion has been politicized” (17%). The other two responses indicate ambivalence: “I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics” (23%) and “I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics” (17%). Here’s the full list of options:

  • Religious conversations always seem to create tension or arguments: 28%
  • I’m not religious and don’t care about these kinds of topics: 23%
  • I’m put off by how religion has been politicized: 17%
  • I don’t feel like I know enough to talk about religious or spiritual topics: 17%
  • I don’t want to be known as a religious person: 7%
  • I don’t know how to talk about religious or spiritual topics without sounding weird: 6%
  • I’m afraid people will see me as a fanatic or extremist: 5%
  • I’m embarrassed by the way religious language has been used in popular culture: 5%
  • I’ve been hurt by religious conversations in the past: 4%
  • Religious language and jargon feels cheesy or outdated: 4%

This survey interviewed people of both religious (and irreligious) backgrounds, so the answers are reflective even of the opinions of Christians. What about you? Are you ambivalent about sharing the gospel of Jesus and talking about your faith in Him? Are do you seek to avoid it because of what it has led to in the past or might lead to in the future? In I Peter 3:15, Christ calls us to set Him apart as Lord in our hearts (this eradicates ambivalence reasons), and to be ready at all times to give an answer for the hope that is in us, with gentleness and respect (this knocks the legs out from under avoidance reasons). We must be bold and tender, direct and wise, initiating and responsive. Pray the Lord would give you open doors and an open mouth to speak about your love for the one who loved you and gave Himself up for you on the cross!

Should Kids Have a Smartphone?

The following video is a re-post from The Gospel Coalition website that features Russell Moore, Scott Sauls (PCA), and Trevin Wax in a discussion about whether Christian parents should give their children a smartphone. These discussions can help us think about things that we normally do not think about and help us come to our own wise conclusions about what is most fitting for our children. 

The Significance of the Burial of Jesus

This past Sunday I preached from John 19:38-20:18, on the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want to comment on something I didn't speak to in my sermon: why is the burial of Jesus important to the Christian faith? Indeed, Paul declared that "He was buried" is one of the matters "of first importance" that he received and delivered to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 15:3-4).

First, the burial of Jesus ensures that the resurrection of Jesus was just that: a resurrection from the dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared Jesus' body for burial, and buried Him in a new tomb, in which no other body had yet been laid (John 19:38-42). These men could testify that there was no life in the body they buried. He had not "swooned," lost consciousness, or fainted. He had truly died. Therefore, if in three days He were alive, the burial proved that He had risen from death to new life.

Second, the burial of Jesus was itself an aspect of His humiliation. The Westminster Larger Catechism #50 reminds us, "Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell." Jesus did not die and then immediately come back to life. His suffering and humiliation descended to the point of remaining under the power of death from Friday through Sunday. As the Westminster divines point out, one aspect of the meaning of the statement "He descended into hell" is clearly the separation of His body and soul in death. As Herman Bavinck puts it, "The state of death in which Christ entered when he died was as essentially a part of his humiliation as his spiritual suffering on the cross. In both together he completed his perfect obedience" (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3, p. 417). Though Psalm 16:10/Acts 2:24-27, 31 assure us that Jesus did not see corruption, and His soul was not abandoned to Hades/Sheol (the state of death), yet it is great comfort to know that Jesus has experienced the whole measure of human suffering, even tasting the grave for a season - He fully bore the wages of sin.

Third, the burial of Jesus fulfilled Scripture, and the words of Jesus Himself. Isaiah 53:9 declares that the grave of the Suffering Servant would be "with a rich man in his death" - fulfilled in the person of Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus taught that His death, burial and resurrection was foreshadowed by the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish: "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Had Jesus not been buried, He would have been proved wrong, or worse, a liar. But He was indeed in the heart of the earth; Scriptural typology, and Jesus' prophecy, were fulfilled.

To deny or ignore the burial of Jesus is certainly to deny or ignore a truth "of first importance" for Christians.