Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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What God Does With Our Sin

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)

Addressing the issue of sin is a vital part of the gospel presentation. It might be an unwelcome issue to tread on sometimes, but it’s necessary. Sin is what separates us from God. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death”. Fortunately, the back half of that verse says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. The grace God gives in salvation covers every sin. However, it is often the case that we want to believe differently, that somehow there’s some sin that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross didn’t cover. That is not the testimony of Scripture:

  • God throws our sin into the sea (Micah 7:19)
  • God treads our sin underfoot (Micah 7:19)
  • God throws our sin behind His back (Isaiah 38:17)
  • God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25)
  • God forgets our sin (Hebrews 8:12)
  • God removes our sin (Psalm 103:12)
  • God covers our sin (Romans 4:7-8)
  • God takes away our sin (John 1:29)
  • God cancels the debt of our sin (Colossians 2:13-14)
  • God washes our sin (Isaiah 1:18)
  • God forgives our sin (1 John 1:9)

The great message of the Bible is that on the cross, Jesus paid, not for just part of your sin, but for all of it. When He cried out from the cross “It is finished” He meant that it really was finished. Salvation rests on God’s grace alone. So respond today by resting in that grace. Live the freedom the cross provides knowing your sins have been paid in full!

One Row Down and To My Right

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3) 

One of the blessings of being in choir is the opportunity to watch from the choir loft as people worship the Lord through song. Music has a special way of stirring hearts and engaging emotions. This is especially the case when the lyrics espouse the great truths of God’s Word. I’ve heard it said that sometimes worship is like a dance, but at other times it’s more like a fight. I suppose the point is that when things are going well, it’s easy to praise the Lord. However, in difficult and uncertain times, giving God praise may not be so easy. I think that’s true.

A few weeks ago, our choir anthem was a song entitled, I Am Not Alone. It is a beautiful song. Some of its lyrics are borrowed from Exodus 14:14, Psalm 23 and Isaiah 43 and emphasize God’s presence with His people in times of trouble. As we sang, I looked out and saw people begin to stand and raise their hands as they praised the Lord. This doesn’t happen all the time, nor does giving praise to the Lord require standing or hand raising. But when it does happen, it’s moving. Sometimes it makes me wonder what that person may be going through in that particular moment. In most cases, I have no idea. This day, however, was different. I saw several people in the congregation standing whose stories I did know. Then I noticed that one row down and to my right stood Mike Bratton. Mike was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago. He has already undergone two rounds of treatment for two cancer diagnoses and has just been diagnosed for a third time. He is again undergoing more treatment. During this song, I couldn’t help but glance over at him a couple of times, wondering what he might be thinking as he sang the words of this song. I also wondered if I could sing the truth of these words if I were in the same situation. I would hope that I could.

Recently, Mike shared his perspective on his battle with cancer by writing the following, “While doctors and clinicians have been killing cancer cells, God has been slowly growing my faith. I cannot do a quarter of what I could two years ago, but God is doing more in my life, and for that, I am unutterably grateful.” He then asked for prayer, prayer for himself and for his family, but also that we would pray for God to do more in our own lives, and that we would follow Christ more nearly. I don’t know Mike Bratton very well. Outside of choir, I can’t really say that I know him at all. But I know this, for me, he has been a wonderful testimony of God’s presence and unfailing grace and faithfulness in the midst of trials. Not for the cancer, but for that, I’m grateful. God’s grace is always sufficient. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us and He never will. He is always at work, even in the midst of great struggles, drawing us to a greater reliance on Him. I believe Mike Bratton trusts in that truth. And along the way, the Lord is using him to teach me that no matter what, I can trust it too.

Renewing Your Mind

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2)

In his letters, Paul always combined theological teaching with application for life. As he concluded what are the first eleven chapters of Romans, he began chapter twelve with a call for those in the church to respond in thankfulness to God’s redeeming work. He said this would be their “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). He then exhorted them to have a mind-set shaped by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the world. It was a call to discern the will of God. That call is the same for us today.

Paul is not the only one who emphasized the need to be cautious of the world’s influence. James wrote that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). The apostle John warns us not to love the world or the things in the world, and that if we do the love of the Father is not in us (1 John 2:15). As Christians, we must have a proper perspective when it comes to our relationship with the world.

It’s no surprise that in large part, the world in which we live operates in opposition to God. Our culture desires to shape our thinking, and it will unless we allow God’s Word to. Spiritual nourishment, feeding on God’s Word daily cannot be an option if we are to stand strong against the world’s influence. However, its value to us is much greater than that. Consistent fellowship with our Lord helps us to live out the joy God intends for us, the joy that a relationship with Christ brings. As much as we were saved from an eternal hell, we were also saved to an abundant life in Christ. God desires intimate fellowship with us. Paul knew that to be true in his day. And it’s just as true today. Don’t let the anxiety of the world and its influence rob you of what God has promised. Seek God and His truth each day, be transformed by the renewal of your mind so you may live out that truth in a world that largely stands in opposition to His will. After all, this world is not really your home.

Cornerstone

“therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be in haste’” (Isaiah 28:16)

The New Year always seems to be an appropriate time to reassess the past and perhaps reorder our priorities. It just seems the right time to consider necessary changes as we move forward into the future. The first Sunday of the New Year, our pastor taught from the beginning verses of Isaiah 41. I’m not sure whether the passage was chosen specifically for the first Sunday, but it was certainly an appropriate one. In his sermon, he encouraged us to know and experience both the greatness of God and His presence in our lives. One of the primary passages in the text was Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. In this same service we sang several songs whose themes aligned with what was taught. One of the songs was Cornerstone, a remake of an old hymn written in 1834, known today as “The Solid Rock”. The song has an updated chorus that was written and recorded by several members of the worship group Hillsong, and was born out of a mass shooting that took place in Norway in 2011. In an interview about what inspired the song, one of the co-writers indicated that circumstances such as this shooting are reminders that when everything appears to be shaken and nothing seems to make sense, we really need to put our faith in Jesus, the Cornerstone.

In ancient building practices, a cornerstone was the large stone that served as the foundation for the entire structure. It was a special piece that needed to be perfectly set. In a figurative sense, a cornerstone is the thing we build our life around. It is what we value the most. It is what we prioritize. It is what we say “no” to other things for because we have said “yes” to it, and of course, it is what we stand on in times of uncertainty. When speaking about the Lord, we find the image of a stone or rock used in both the Old and New Testaments. The point of Isaiah 28:16 is that God has established a sure foundation for His people, a sure foundation that the Old Testament points to and the New Testament reveals. This sure foundation is Jesus Christ. Peter referred to Christ as a “living stone” as He is both the source and giver of eternal life. Those who trusted in Him he called “living stones” (1 Peter 2:4-5). For those who rejected His Word, Jesus became a stone of stumbling (1 Peter 2:8). He is a stone of stumbling for those who reject Him today.

As years pass, the pace at which they go seems only to increase. That begs the question, not because it’s the New Year, but because the answer has eternal consequences. Is Christ your cornerstone? Have you put your trust in Him? Is He your priority? Is He the “rock” upon which you stand? Maybe this is the year to make some changes and put Jesus in His rightful place. In this New Year, why not try standing on the solid rock of Christ, because the truth is, all other ground really is just sinking sand.

Draw Near

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)

The “Christ alone” message challenges us to let go of what comes most natural to our human nature— control. God appointed Christ to suffer and pay the penalty for our sin. It was a debt we couldn’t pay, but one that Jesus lovingly paid on our behalf. Christ has redeemed us, perfectly and for all time. All of salvation is by God’s grace, and it comes through faith alone in Christ alone. Jesus lived a life we couldn’t and He died a death we wouldn’t. We don’t have to add to what Christ has done because we can’t. Instead, we are to trust in His finished work.

As believer’s, our confidence to “draw near” is not because we’ve worked up enough goodness in and of ourselves to be worthy enough to draw near. No, it’s because Jesus, our Great High Priest has made atonement for sin and thereby opened the doorway to grace. It’s Christ who is worthy! So, let us do as the Hebrew writer says. Let us draw near to the throne of grace, and to the cross, the central symbol of all Christ has done on our behalf. We don’t have a God who is unapproachable, but one who calls us to come boldly and confidently before His throne knowing that it’s there where we will find mercy, ever flowing grace, and help in our time of need.

A Mighty Fortress

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1)

Most know Martin Luther as the leader of the Protestant Reformation. If you were to associate Luther with only one book of the Bible, it would probably be Romans. His conversion resulted from its study. But Martin Luther also loved the psalms and Psalm 46 was one of his favorites, serving as inspiration for his writing the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Continue reading