The Secret To Reading The Bible
All of life can be simplified (perhaps oversimplified) into two categories: faith and desires. Life is about what/who we believe in and what/who we desire. You will live for what/who you believe is true and what/who you desire as valuable.
So, when the Holy Spirit works on our hearts and minds, he is working to enable faith and new desires. The primary tool by which the Holy Spirit accomplishes this is the Bible. As we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit testifies in our minds, “This Word is true” and in our hearts, “This Word is good.”
Therefore, the way that we position ourselves to be renewed by the Holy Spirit is to carefully and to prayerfully read the Bible. This is the task of the local church: to equip the people in the pews to read, understand, believe, rejoice in, and obey God’s holy Word.
I have witnessed the Holy Spirit supernaturally give faith, joy, and heart-felt obedience to people who did not possess any knowledge or understanding of the Bible. God is not bound nor is he constrained by anything. However, if a fire is started with a single log, that flame will burn hot, but it will eventually burn out unless you throw more logs onto the fire. So it is with faith, joy, and obedience: those traits will grow cold and eventually disappear without the daily reading and understanding of God’s Word.
What, then, is the secret to reading and understanding Scripture? There is no secret! The words, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and books of the biblical text are clear and sufficient. Our task is to carefully and prayerfully read the text in order to gain understanding.
Do not be intimidated by this task. Do not fear as you gaze into the biblical landscape. You do not look into an abyss of nothingness like Nietzsche. You look into the world of our knowable and gracious God. The very existence of the Bible is evidence that God is near to you and that he desires for you to draw near to him. Take him at his Word.
So, for the remainder of this article, I will try to show simple ways to read and draw understanding from the Bible, using the text of Hebrews 7:26-28 as an example. The text reads as follows in the English Standard Version:
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”
Let’s assume that you have been reading the book of Hebrews from 1:1 all the way to 7:25. Now, the word “For” in verse 26 is meant to connect what has already been said to what will be said. The question for the Bible reader is, “How does ‘for’ connect what has been said to what will be said?” What will “for” reveal to us and uncover for us?
Now we see it. The goal of this coordinating conjunction is to show us why all of these things we have seen in the previous unit (Hebrews 6:13-7:25) are fitting or necessary. In order that we are not confused, the remainder of the clause summarizes the point of 6:13-7:25.
So, the goal of “for” is to justify why Jesus is our high priest. In other words, verses 26-28 are meant to show us why it is fitting that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is our truer and better priest unto God.
The second part of verse 26 emphasizes the qualities of Jesus that make it fitting that he is our high priest. Notice the 5 attributes used to describe him:
Each one of these 5 adjectives/qualities can be the source of immense study and prayerful reflection. Jesus’ nature and character is equated in these verses to the very nature of God (Hebrews 1:3). He is fitting as our high priest because he is God. His ministry as our high priest is as much a declaration that he is God as the calming of the storm (Luke 8:25).
Verse 27 offers a second reason why Jesus is fitting as our high priest: Jesus and his ministry is greater than the priests of old and their ministry. Notice that verse 27 does not begin with a conjunction and continues with the same subject: “He.” So, verse 27 builds on the fittingness of Jesus as our high priest.
So, what is being argued here? My attempt in spacing out the verse as shown above and the arrows and dotted lines is to show how this verse contrasts the limited ministry of Levitical priests with the limitless ministry of Jesus. Notice the parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ priesthood and their priesthood. He has no need, like them. They offered animal sacrifices daily, whereas Jesus offered himself once for all.
When we see the contrast and the supremacy of Jesus’ priesthood, it leads us to leave behind any form of religion that calls us to place our trust in human beings or human traditions. We do not have confidence in earthly priests and earthly ministries. We have confidence in our high priest who has passed through the heavens (Hebrews 4:14-16).
In verse 26 it was argued that Jesus possesses divine qualities. In verse 27 it was argued that Jesus has a superior ministry. Finally, in verse 28, it is argued that his priesthood is fitting because it is secured by a better promise.
Notice again, how verse 28 parallels and contrasts in order to make this point:
Verse 28 is broken into 2 main clauses. Both clauses possess what I am calling a ‘source.’ The first clause identifies the source of the law, that is; the law of Moses. And what does this law do, what is its ‘action?’ The law appoints men. And how does the first clause qualify these men who serve as priests? They are weak. How foolish it is to put our hope and confidence in the weakness of man! Yet, we are tempted to put our hope in the things of man (Revelation 13:18).
Notice the second clause begins with, “But.” This conjunction lets us know that the second clause will contrast with the first clause just like in verse 27. But the word of the oath (Hebrews 7:20-21) is not like the law. The law appoints men in their weakness, but God’s oath/promise appoints a Son, and this Son is anything but weak! He has been made perfect forever – that is, his appointment is forever by the power of an indestructible life (7:16).
These verses contrast the temporary and weak ministry of man with the eternal and powerful ministry of the Son of God. His divine qualities (26), his superior ministry (27) secured by a better promise (28), make Jesus a fitting high priest for God’s people.
This only scratches the surface of what this passage reveals about Jesus, God’s plans and purposes, and the power to follow him in obedience. My point is to show how clear and understandable the text of Scripture is. We will reap in understanding what we sow in careful and prayerful reading.
So, do not be intimidated to dive into the Bible. Do not fear misinterpreting it. Read it carefully and prayerfully, knowing that the Spirit of God, our great Interpreter, is glad to guide you and lead you into the truth (John 16:13).
Should We Baptize Children?
Baptism is important to Baptists. The meaning and practice of baptism is a key mark of our particular Protestant expression. All Baptists agree on the practice of believer’s baptism: the practice that only conscious believers in Jesus can be baptized. However, Baptists can disagree on the administration and implications of baptism. We shouldn’t condemn one another over these issues, but we do need fruitful and thoughtful dialogue. The baptism of children is one of those issues.
Certainly, children can possess true faith. Jesus sets up their faith as a model for adults, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it’ (Luke 18:16-17).
Nevertheless, this does not mean we should indiscriminately baptize children. Most Christian parents recognize this, because most Christian parents ask pastors, “Is my child old enough to be baptized?” That question speaks to the reality that the conscience and convictions of a child can be fragile (1 Corinthians 13:11, Proverbs 22:15). Parents know this and love their children.
Some churches dismiss this question and act presumptuously and indiscriminately. And some churches act arbitrarily by setting an age requirement that Scripture does not demand. Being eighteen is no more a guarantee that someone is saved than being five. Still, we know that a child’s heart and mind are delicate.
Before we consider the particulars of children and baptism, we should examine some general biblical principles regarding baptism. Looking at Scripture, we could say: Baptism is an ordinance given to the church by Jesus himself that proclaims the gospel, symbolizes the new birth, and is a means by which a local church affirms its members.
Baptism is an ordinance given to the church by Jesus himself
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
One imperative drives these verses: “Make disciples.” What does Jesus charge us to do with those disciples? Two participles follow the imperative: Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Of all the things that Jesus could have said to follow the command to make disciples, baptism was of first importance. This should cause churches and parents to pause and ask, “Why is baptism so important to Jesus and to the kingdom work he has called us to do?” Knowing how important this is to Jesus, we cannot afford to be presumptuously indiscriminate or arbitrarily restrictive.
Baptism proclaims the gospel
The Greek verb “baptizō” means “to immerse” or “to submerge.” In the case of baptism, we immerse or submerge under water. This is why John the Baptist baptized in the Jordan river – so that he could submerge people who were coming out to be baptized (Mark 1:4). The immersive design of baptism declares the glories of the gospel.
When James and John asked Jesus if they could sit at his side in heaven, Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38) The cup and baptism are interchangeable. The cup that he was referring to was his impending death on the cross (Mark 14:36). “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50).
Baptism is a proclamation of the good news of the death and resurrection of our Lord. Every time a church baptizes a believer by immersion, it is a declaration that ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Baptism symbolizes the new birth
Baptism proclaims the gospel and it also symbolizes the new birth. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Water baptism symbolizes the spiritual baptism of the heart when someone believes in Jesus. The old life is put to death and buried. It is no more. Now, by the real and supernatural baptism of the Holy Spirit, a new life is raised up with Christ and for Christ.
Baptism does not create this reality, but it does testify to it. When a person is baptized he/she is testifying, “I am no longer the person I once was. That person is dead, and a new person has been raised to the glory of God.”
Baptism is a means by which a local church affirms its members
Baptism proclaims the gospel, symbolizes the new birth, and it also is a means by which a local church affirms its members. Baptism is not merely an act of the individual being baptized. In fact, it is primarily an act of a church. When a church baptizes someone, they are affirming that he/she is a repentant and obedient believer in Jesus.
Jesus calls this act of affirmation, “binding” in Matthew 16 and 18. After Peter professes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), Jesus tells the apostles, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). And following instructions for a church to practice church discipline, Jesus says, “Truly I say you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
In the context of Matthew 18:15-20, ‘loosing,’ clearly refers to removing unrepentant church members from the church. If loosing refers to removing members, then binding must refer to receiving members. Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom to his churches to bind and to loose, to receive and to remove.
And who should churches bind and receive? Disciples. And what should churches do with disciples? Baptize them (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is the act of a church saying to an individual, “Amen, we affirm you!” based on his/her profession of faith and new life in Christ Jesus.
Should we baptize children?
This brings us to the provocative title “Should We Baptize Children?” In light of what we have observed of baptism in Scripture, below are questions we should ask on a case by case basis.
Baptism proclaims the gospel – Does the child have a clear and solid understanding of the gospel? Does he/she understand who Jesus is? Can he/she distinguish the difference between Jesus and Santa Claus or the Easter bunny? Does he/she understand their sin? Does he/she understand what Jesus’ blood sacrifice accomplished? Is there any confusion in his/her mind that he/she is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and not by religious works and traditions?
Baptism symbolizes the new birth – Does the child possess godly sorrow for sin rather than mere worldly sorrow? Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Do you see a yielded and repentant heart within the child? Can you see a change in desires; no longer for selfish wants but for Jesus, his Word, holiness, and to love and serve others? Does the child have an obedient heart towards parents? If you say, “Well, they are too young for us to really see that,” then maybe more time should be given before we affirm them through baptism.
Baptism is a means by which a local church affirms its members – Is the child old enough to understand that a local church is affirming him/her? Is the significance of this affirmation lost on the child? Are the parents of the child baptized and active members of the church themselves? Can a child really be ‘bound’ by a church at a young age? If so, how should a church respond if a child departs from the faith or becomes unrepentant?
These are not extreme hypothetical questions that should be dismissed. These are the day to day realities of churches across the world. Notice I said, “realities,” not “problems.” Children being raised in the ways of the Lord and placing their faith in Jesus is never a problem; it is always a blessing!
God calls whom he will. He grants faith as he sees fit. Each child should be examined gently, patiently, and honestly. We must remember that God calls us to make disciples, not decisions. Baptism proclaims the gospel, symbolizes the new birth, and affirms disciples for life.
And if a child has been crucified and raised with Christ, then nothing can stop him/her from loving Jesus and living for him. Even delayed baptism.
Obedience Is Necessary
Obedience is the very best way
To show that you believe.
Doing exactly what the Lord commands,
Doing it joyfully.
Action is the key – do it immediately
Joy you will receive.”
These are lyrics to a Bible song that my girls listen to in the mornings on the way to school. I love this song. It is full of powerful truths for our lives. This song holds out a biblical promise: Obeying the Lord happily and immediately will yield true and everlasting joy.
Yet, I hear many professing Christians bristle at obedience. It seems many have been taught because we are saved by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:9-10), obedience is not necessary. The line of reasoning goes something like this: the old covenant was mediated by the Law of Moses, which demanded obedience to rules, but the new covenant is mediated by grace, which demands faith. This line of thought has caused professing Christians to say something like, “Obedience equals legalism” or “God does not demand obedience.”
This is a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the old and new covenants. Obedience is not an outdated or transcended relic of the old covenant. In fact, the problem with the old covenant is not that it emphasized obedience, but that it lacked the power to enable obedience. Moses looked to a future day when God would circumcise the hearts of his people and enable them to obey God.
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live…And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today” (Deuteronomy. 30:6-8).
Moses looked to a day when God would supernaturally change the hearts of his people to love him. Notice the connection between loving God and obeying God. What is the evidence that they love God? They will obey God’s voice.
Ezekiel spoke of that same day. “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The grace of the new covenant enables obedience from the heart, which is exactly what God desires (1 Samuel 15:22). Anyone who desires to do away with obedience is at odds with Jesus.
Jesus connects faith with obedience:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
Jesus connects love with obedience (just as Moses did in Dt. 30:6-8):
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word (obedience), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:23-24).
Jesus connects relationship with obedience:
“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
If we have faith in Jesus, we will obey him.
If we love Jesus, we will obey him.
If we have a relationship with Jesus, we will obey him.
In Romans 1:5 and 16:26 Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith” to paint a picture of faith as a soil, rich and full of nutrients; producing a tree of obedience that bears much fruit. Obedience to rules apart from faith is not pleasing to God, for “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). However, without obedience, faith proves itself to be dead (James 2:17).
God is not legalistic, nor is he licentious. He is holy and gracious. He delights in giving us the power to obey him. He delights in changing our hearts so that we desire to please him and do what he commands.
So, pray in accordance with God’s desire for you. If you are a born-again believer, pray for grace to obey. If you are not born-again, cry out to Jesus. Confess your faith in him as Lord and Savior, and surrender your life to him for the obedience of faith.
Joy you will receive.
If You Want To Feel Alive, Tell Someone About Jesus
Like most people, I wrestle with anxiety. My sinful flesh is prone to worry and be anxious about anything and everything. My sinful way of dealing with anxiety and worry is to find comfort in fleshly things like food or entertainment.
Let’s examine that last sentence carefully. Notice, the way that I deal with anxiety and worry is by doing something. The way that my flesh seeks comfort from anxiety is by action. I eat food for comfort. I watch Netflix for comfort. These are actions that I do because I believe that they will comfort me and relieve me of my anxiety and worry.
Therefore, I inherently know that I must do something in order to fight anxiety and what I do depends on what I believe.
God used the sermon of an old preacher whose name I have forgotten to illustrate this for me and it has stuck with me for many years. I was amazed to hear a man in his 80’s humbly and candidly describe his battle with anxiety. Most pastors present themselves as strong and competent. Most pastors don’t confess their weaknesses and sinful ways. As he confessed his struggles with anxiety and worry I thought, “How could this man struggle so profoundly with these things, yet endure until the end of his ministry with great faithfulness?”
He provided the answer. He said, “Many days and seasons I get down. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I struggle with insecurity and I can easily mope and feel sorry for myself. I have learned over the years that the most effective way for me to fight anxiety is to tell someone about Jesus. When I feel sorry for myself, I go to the mall. I sit on a bench until a dutiful husband, just as miserable as I am, sits next to me. Then I tell him how good and great my Jesus is. If you want to feel alive, go tell someone about Jesus.”
In other words, he fought anxiety, worry, and even depression by doing something. He acted on faith, believing that if he went and told someone about Jesus, he would find power to overcome those afflictions. The Holy Spirit has caused his wise testimony to stick with me over the years. It has become one of the most important truths I have ever heard.
Isaiah 12:3-4 says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.’”
Notice that Isaiah says that you will draw water from the well of salvation “with joy.” Knowing that I am saved by grace and knowing what it cost (Jesus’ life) is a deep source of joy for me. I can internalize that truth, hold it tight in my heart, meditate on it in my mind, pray prayers of thanksgiving for it, and sing of it on Sunday.
But the image here is not of the believer drawing water from the well of salvation and drinking it, but of drawing water from the well of salvation and serving it.
Look again in verse 4: “And,” which connects the joy of drawing water in verse 3 with what will follow in verse 4, “you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.’” So, the source of joy in verse 3 is not internalizing salvation but externalizing salvation. The joy that Isaiah is speaking of is the joy of giving the water of salvation to all people; pleading with the people to call upon his name.
There is a joy that God wants us to know that is received by actively telling others about the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ.
We fight anxiety and worry by actively seeking God’s kingdom work. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:25-33). Faith put into action for the sake of God’s mission is one of the most effective ways to fight anxiety, worry, depression, and to pursue joy in Christ. Let me give you 4 reasons why I think sharing the good news of the gospel is so effective at fighting anxiety:
1) Actively sharing the gospel is an exercise of faith. When we share the gospel with others, we exercise faith to overcome fear, doubts, and even anxiety! Active evangelism trains our heart to trust God when we are anxious.
2) Actively sharing the gospel causes us to take our focus off of ourselves and to put it on others. Much of our anxiety and worry stems from a focus on ourselves and our circumstances (Matthew 6:25). Focusing on others and blessing them with the gospel frees us from self-centeredness and self-absorption (Philippians 2:3).
3) Actively sharing the gospel causes us to remember and recite the good news of the gospel. Sharing the good news of salvation is not just beneficial for others, but for ourselves as well. As we verbally recall the deeds of the Lord and all his wonders in the gospel (Psalm 77:11) it will stir up faith in the promises of God.
4) Actively sharing the gospel positions us to behold God’s glory in salvation. As God uses our witness to save people, we will have a front row seat to his miraculous grace. It is a miracle when God opens people’s eyes and gives them a new heart. When we share the gospel with people, we say with Moses, “Show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18).
To put it simply, we combat sin-based anxiety with supernatural faith in action. In my experience, nothing has enabled me to conquer anxiety and to rejoice in God than actively, intentionally, and verbally sharing the gospel to people who do not know Jesus.
Whether we do this through personal relationships, street evangelism, or we go to the mall to find miserable husbands; the promise of joy is the same. How much of our anxiety, worry, and even depression can be attributed to slothfulness, self-focus, self-indulgence, and boredom? What could be more exciting than God’s mission for his people? What could be more fulfilling than making Christ known? What could make us feel more alive than to be used by King Jesus for his glory and for the eternal good of others?
Beware of the thought, “That’s too simplistic!” Satan loves our anxiety, worry, and depression. He wants nothing more than for us to remain there, and he has many weapons designed to deceive us into despair. He also loves to complicate biblical truths that God has made clear and simple. Don’t listen to Satan, listen to God and take note of his promises.
Believer, if you find yourself anxious, worried, and/or depressed – take a step of faith and pursue the joy of serving the water of salvation to someone who needs it. You will find that your thirst will be quenched.
“The Fury of the Fatherless & The Faithfulness of the Father”
In the December 2020 issue of First Things, Mary Eberstadt wrote an article titled, “The Fury of the Fatherless.” Her argument in the article is that much of the dysfunction that we see in Western society can be attributed to the lack of fathers in the home. Eberstadt writes, “Six decades of social science have established that the most efficient way to increase dysfunction is to increase fatherlessness.” According to Eberstadt, “absent fathers predict higher rates of truancy, psychiatric problems, criminality, promiscuity, drug use, rape, domestic violence, and other less-than-optimal outcomes,” such as the search for “father substitutes,” which can “turn out to be toxic.”
She also cites evidence to show that there is a link between the “loosening of family ties and the loosening of religious ties.” In other words, when a child’s relationship with an earthly father is broken or dysfunctional, there is a statistical, sociological, and psychological likelihood that the child will reject faith in God. She notes the research of sociologist Paul Vitz, who observed that many prominent atheists had “experienced some form of ‘defective fatherhood,’ such as absence or abuse. Anger at fathers, Vitz theorized, was translated into anger at God.”
Eberstadt uncovers a grim reality that as fatherlessness increases, so does secularism and a disregard for the biblical vision of marriage and family. These trends and statistics are discouraging and heartbreaking. However, they do not tell the whole story, nor do they present ultimate reality.
The Bible tells us that reality is not dictated by human sociology but by divine sovereignty. Though the fury of the fatherless is real, Scripture anchors our faith and hope in the faithfulness of God the Father. Scripture assures us that God is able to overcome evil, sin, and unbelief. God is totally free and all-powerful; therefore, he is not constrained nor is he weakened by societal drifts.
Eberstadt’s article really resonated with me. Like many of the statistics and people she referenced, I grew up in a fatherless home. I did not meet my biological father until I was 20 years old. The majority of my elementary years I grew up with an angry, abusive, and alcoholic stepfather (note: he has since passed and my current stepfather is a godly man who loves the Lord).
Sunday School teachers told me as a young child that God loves me and cares for me. Yet, I would think in my mind, “Has God forgotten me? Does he hate me?” (Psalm 10:10-11). I remember feeling anger, resentment, and confusion as a child. I remember feeling socially disoriented, insecure, and, indeed, searching for “father substitutes” to affirm and guide me. Most of these substitutes were sinful and all were misplaced.
But God the Father was faithful. He had not forgotten me. He did love me. He did not give me a father, but he was faithful to give me his Word, a steadfast mother, and a loving church.
One night, as a young child, my stepfather was drunk and angry. I could hear him in the living room shouting profanities, breaking things, and cursing God. By God’s gracious leading, I grabbed a Methodist pew Bible that night, opened it to the book of Exodus, and began reading. I read about God’s faithfulness to bring Israel out of bondage in Egypt. I read about his faithfulness to bring them through the Red Sea as Pharaoh raged behind them. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and showed me what was real: sin has left this world dysfunctional, unjust, and not what it should be. Why are things so broken? Sin.
I read about their rebellion and worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit continued to speak and to show me ultimate reality: Sin does not just affect the world outside me, it affects me to the core of my being. My father and my stepfather are sinners, but so am I! We all stand guilty before the holy and righteous God.
And then I read how God forgave Israel and what he declared about himself in Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
God made himself real to me through his Word that night. Dysfunction was not ultimate reality. Drunken rage was not ultimate reality. An absentee father was not ultimate reality. Insecurity, anger, and confusion was not ultimate reality. Exodus 34:6-7 was, is, and forever will be ultimate reality. The God of the Bible is the God who is there and the God who saves and redeems. Reality would never be the same.
God delivered me from becoming a statistic by his sovereign grace and steadfast love. Over the years I witnessed my mother put her trust in God and obey him at great cost. I witnessed God break my stepfather’s abusive power over my mother “by the power of an indestructible life,” (Hebrews 7:16).
God revealed his fatherly love for me by sending me godly men who loved me, taught me his Word, and prayed for me. When Mr. Werntz, my high school “Accountability Group” leader sensed by the Holy Spirit that I was secretly in sin, he lovingly confronted me. After I confessed that I was viewing pornography, he looked me in the eyes as a man and prayed for me with tears.
At every step and in every moment, God was faithfully revealing himself to me. “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself, you have been the helper of the fatherless,” (Psalm 10:14).
We mourn the epidemic of fatherlessness and we mourn the sufferings of the fatherless, but not as those without hope. Our hope rests in our faithful Father and all of his promises that have been secured by the Lord Jesus; including the promise that he will cause fathers to repent and to return to their children (Luke 1:17).
Remember him who said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Give Thanks For God’s Righteousness
On an average day, I bounce back and forth between gratitude and ingratitude. When I find a parking spot at the grocery store, I give thanks. When my favorite flavor of Blue Bell Ice Cream is out of stock, I grumble and whine. My soul is grateful when my children rush to give me hugs and tell me about their day, then bitter when they are defiant and rebellious. I am glad when my paycheck is deposited, yet I complain when the electric bill arrives.
Left to myself and my own nature and strength, I am like a rudderless ship: tossed back and forth by my circumstances, my feelings, and my wants. If things go well or go my way, I will be grateful. If things do not go well or do not go my way, I will be ungrateful.
As long as I let my circumstances, my feelings, and my wants rule my heart and mind, I will never be able to obey the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Scripture commands us to give thanks in all circumstances. This must mean that the barrier to ever-present and ongoing gratitude is the fleshly state of looking to our circumstances, our feelings, and our wants. By “looking to” I mean “trusting in” or “hoping in.” The barrier to ever-present gratitude is believing that our circumstances, our feelings, or our wants will give us life.
If we look to our circumstances, then we will be ruled by our circumstances. If we look to our feelings, we will be ruled by our feelings. If we look to our wants, we will be ruled by our wants. As a result, our gratitude will be tossed back and forth the way waves toss a rudderless boat.
Therefore, gratitude is a fruit of faith. If we put our faith in our circumstances, our feelings, or our wants then gratitude will constantly elude us or it will be cheap and shallow. If we put our faith in or look to the Lord then unshakeable gratitude will overflow from our hearts regardless of our circumstances, feelings, or wants.
I believe people are ungrateful, joyless, bitter, envious, and angry because they are looking to things that cannot and will not satisfy. Jeremiah 2:13 says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Psalm 115:8 declares to those who worship lifeless idols, “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trustin them.”
So, if gratitude comes from looking to the Lord and trusting in him, what specifically should we look for? It is possible to think that we are looking to the Lord, but in reality, we are looking pastthe Lord; that is, looking to what he can do for us or give to us. This again makes our gratitude contingent on our circumstances, our feelings, or our wants. Beware of looking past the Lord.
To look to the Lord means that we look at him, place our hope in him, find our joy in him, and therefore we are always thankful because he never disappoints.
Psalm 7:17 explains this to us: “I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.” The Psalmist gives thanks to God. Why? Notice, the reason for his gratitude is “due to his (God’s) righteousness.”
The psalmist’s hope is not set on the shifting waves of circumstances, feelings, and wants. His hope is set on the absolute rock of God’s righteousness. The psalmist looks and beholds the righteousness of his God and he sees splendor and majesty; Psalm 111:3, “Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever”
Looking to God’s righteousness is a sure means of gratitude and joy because God’s “righteousness endures forever” as opposed to all of the temporary and fleeting things of the world.
If a sports bettor knew with complete certainty that a football team would win every game, he would certainly bet a max bet on that team every week. In fact, he would be a fool if he didn’t bet on that team! Similarly, the righteousness of God, is an eternal and sure source of gratitude. We would be fools to turn to temporal sources!
Therefore, look to the Lord! Do not look past the Lord to his blessings, but to the Lord himself. Behold his splendor and majesty in his Word and give thanks in prayer for his never-ending righteousness.
Satan’s Water & Christ’s Oil
Jesus was careful to make sure that people understood that becoming his disciple would be costly (Luke 14:25-33). John 6 records an instance when “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60-66).
Following Jesus is costly and hard. It is costly because the call to follow Jesus is a call to die (Mark 8:34-35). It is hard because the temptations of the flesh are so appealing (1 John 2:16). Following Jesus requires faith that the promises of God in Christ are sure and that the grace of God will uphold us when we are weak.
I find that temptation is always at my door, always knocking, and always boasting promises of life. I also find that despair always looms at my window; blocking the light from coming in. Satan utilizes temptations of the flesh to get me to trample on the grace of God and to disregard his commands, and he utilizes despair to get me to doubt God’s goodness and power or to get me to turn to pride and cynicism.
1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan hates God. He hates God’s people. He hates faith. He hates the obedience that comes from faith. Therefore, he works day and night to destroy our faith.
Satan is wiser, smarter, and more powerful than we are. Yet, Peter is sure that we can resist him. How? 1 Peter 5:9-11 says, “Resist him (Satan), firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
We can resist Satan’s attacks by the power of faith. Even if we suffer, as many brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering, we resist Satan and overcome him by faith that the God of all grace will himself see us through until the end. Because God is faithful, we can have faith that he will enable us to overcome the evil one.
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man named Christian who embraces the costly path to follow Jesus. The path is full of temptation and despair. Along his journey, Christian encounters a man named Interpreter. Interpreter shows Christian many “profitable” things that will help him to endure until the end.
In one scene, Interpreter takes Christian into a room where fire is burning against a wall. There is a man in the room who is described as “standing by (the fire) always, casting much water upon it to quench it.”
Christian asks Interpreter, “What means this?” Interpreter tells Christian, “This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart.” In other words, the fire represents Christian faith. “He that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil.” Like a lion always looking to devour prey, Satan is always working to extinguish the flame of faith in our hearts.
“Yet,” we are told, “did the fire burn higher and hotter.” What enables the flame of faith to burn higher and hotter even as Satan douses it with water? Interpreter takes Christian to the other side of the wall where he finds another man “with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.”
Interpreter tells Christian, “This is Christ, who continually with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still.”
Following Jesus was very costly and difficult for John Bunyan. Bunyan was a preacher and God blessed his preaching. However, his preaching landed him in jail. What was supposed to be only a 3-month sentence turned into 12 years because Bunyan refused to stop. For 12 years, Bunyan sat in a dark, cold, and disease infested prison cell; separated from his precious family whom he loved dearly.
Imagine all the ways that Satan doused Bunyan’s faith with temptations and despair during those years. Imagine how the flame of his faith flickered on those long, cold nights. Imagine his sorrow on his children’s birthdays or on his wedding anniversary.
But there was a greater power at work in Bunyan’s life; a power that enabled him to say, “I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.”
This is the power of the grace of our faithful Lord Jesus – who is always there, unseen, pouring the oil of his grace, and enabling faith. He did this for Bunyan, as he has done for our brotherhood throughout the world, and as he will do for us if we stand firm in our faith.
God Is Greater Than The World
This morning I walked around the neighborhood of our church. As I walked, I prayed, asking God to work in the homes and hearts of our community. Our church is situated among a vast array of large and expensive homes inhabited by prominent and powerful people. As I walked and prayed, I confessed to God, “I fear these people Lord. I fear their prominence and their power. I fear speaking to them about you and your precious Word.” I confessed, “I struggle to believe that you can work in their hearts.”
As I confessed and mourned my unbelief, God gave me a great gift. The Holy Spirit brought the book of Jonah to my mind. As I meditated on those four short chapters, God reminded me of four amazing realities that turned me away from unbelief and set my hope upon him.
Reality #1 – The world possesses great power
Nineveh, a city in biblical Assyria, was a great and powerful city (Genesis 10:11). God said to Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city…” (1:2). Notice that God calls it “great.” God uses the Hebrew word, “gadol” to describe Nineveh. Gadol is used in the Old Testament to describe magnitude or size (Jonah 1:17) or to show prominence and power (Job 1:3, 2 Kings 18:19). Nineveh was great in all of these ways.
Assyria’s greatness is recorded for us in 2 Kings 18. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sent a great army (v.17) to Jerusalem and counseled king Hezekiah and the people of Judah to surrender. Sennacherib mocked anyone who trusted in God. He told the people, “‘Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, the LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me’” (vv.31-32).
Then Sennacherib turned their attention to his track record, “Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (v.33). “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (v.35).
From our perspective, the powers of the world seem so great, and they are – from our perspective. But from God’s perspective they are as nothing (Psalm 2:1-6). In fact, all of the power that the world possesses comes from God himself (Job 12:23-25, John 19:11).
Reality #2 – God is sovereign over all earthly powers as evidenced by his judgment
Immediately after God says Nineveh is great, God demonstrates his power over Nineveh by judging the entire city. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (1:2). God had set his heart to judge Nineveh. God was going to cause Nineveh to be “overthrown” (3:4) as a judgment for their evil ways. As large and as prominent and as powerful as Nineveh was, it could not escape the judgment of God.
A day will come when God will execute his judgment (Acts 17:30-31) on the whole world. Yet, God has already declared his judgment to the world (John 3:17-19). Therefore, I need not fear worldly power nor desire worldly gain, for I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth (Job 19:25).
Reality #3 – God is sovereign over all earthly powers as evidenced by his irresistible grace
God demonstrates his power over every worldly power by subduing rebellious and unbelieving hearts by his irresistible grace. It is one thing to squash an ant that bites you. It is another thing to cause the ant to love you and worship you so that it never wants to bite you. God loves to show his power over the world by causing people to believe in him and repent.
“And he (Jonah) called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (3:4-5). The king of Nineveh declared, “Let all call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:8-9).
Nineveh was not primed to respond like this. The Assyrians were a great power in the world. Israel and Judah were their enemies, so God was the enemy of their gods. They were happy with their gods and their ways of living. On top of that, Jonah preached a halfhearted message to only a third of the entire city (3:3-4)!
Yet God’s call upon their hearts was effective and that great city bowed in fear before God. No one could have imagined anything like this. Only a miracle could do this. God performed a miracle of mercy to turn their hearts. Nineveh was overthrown, not by might, but by mercy. God had set his sovereign grace on Nineveh, and was impossible for Nineveh to resist it.
“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18).
“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6).
Reality #4 – God exercises his sovereign power over worldly powers through the preaching of his Word
God told Jonah to go and preach to Nineveh. The message or the proclamation of God (3:2) was his instrument of overcoming judgment or of overcoming grace. It was the message of God preached to the people of Nineveh that was the means by which God overcame their hearts by his irresistible grace.
The way that our church and other churches around the world will subdue worldly powers is by clearly, faithfully, and convictionally proclaiming the full counsel of God’s Word.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Jesus is with us
The Bible affirms what we see with our eyes: the powers of the world are great. But the Bible sets our hope on the greater reality that those powers are as nothing to God. God possesses sovereign power to overthrow all worldly powers by judgment or by grace. Now, while it is still day (John 9:4), God is overthrowing and subduing worldly powers by his grace through the proclamation of his Word.
Therefore, believer in Jesus, rather than fear and doubt (as I did this morning), believe in God and proclaim the full counsel of his Word. Make disciples and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded us. See the world through the lens of biblical realities – that God is sovereign and his unlimited power is on your side.
Remember the words of our Lord, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
God Is Not Cruel or Uncaring
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7–11 ESV)
When my daughter came to my wife and I and told us she had nightmares, we encouraged her to pray. She resisted, saying, “Jesus doesn’t care about my nightmares.”
As a pastor, I find that many people have a hard time truly believing that God is gracious and generous. I find myself thinking of God like this as well. Like the lazy and wicked servant who buried his single talent in the ground and accused his master of being cruel and harsh (Matthew 25:24), our default is to view God as infinitely able, yet practically unwilling or as overflowing in kindness, yet easily annoyed and frustrated.
But this is not how Scripture reveals him. Contrary to popular opinion, the Old Testament shows us that God is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and truth (Exodus 34:6-7). God’s loving care for idolatrous and adulterous Israel is the shocking story of the Old Testament historical books. Rather than forsake them, he lovingly disciplines and forgives them.
Meanwhile, the prophetic books proclaimed the promise of the Savior who will forgive our sins and the promise of the Holy Spirit who will give us new hearts. Every page of the Old Testament drips with his grace, his love, his goodness, and his generosity.
Then, the New Testament declares that God has been faithful to all of his promises. For all the promises of God find their YES in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord has made have failed; all have come to pass (Joshua 21:45). Jesus is the key. He alone is worthy to fulfill God’s promises and unlock his good purposes for his people (Revelation 5:5-7). By his shed blood (Hebrews 9:12) and by the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16) it is finished (John 19:30).
If God has gone to such great lengths to give us his promises and purposes, then why would he give us rocks when we ask for bread or snakes when we ask for fish? Why would he not care about our nightmares or our fears and worries? Why would God not hear or care about our prayers for our unbelieving friend? Why would God not care about our needs, whatever they might be?
What in Scripture would give us reason to believe that God is cruel towards his children and does not care about them?
This sort of belief that God does not care and that God is cruel is really unbelief. It is a lack of faith in God’s revealed nature and character in Scripture. It is also pride. It is impossible to accuse God of not caring without asserting ourselves over God. To accuse God of being uncaring or cruel is to judge God according to our wisdom rather than believing his Word.
Satan loves when we trust in our own wisdom or his wisdom rather than God’s. He wants us to believe that God is cruel and uncaring. He wants us to see prayer as foolishness and his Word as primitive. He wants us be sure of ourselves and to question God. He loves to deceive us in the fog of pride and unbelief.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6-11).
4 Ways To Fight Anxiety
This post is a supplement to the sermon, “Overcoming Anxiety By God’s Grace.” You can listen to it here.
Luke 12:22-34 At A Glance
In Luke 12:22 Jesus commands us “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” In verses 24-28 Jesus gives us 3 reasons why we should fight the sin of anxiety.
- We were not created to live for basic needs. Life is more than food and clothing. We were made for a greater purpose (v.23).
- God takes care of things of lesser value, like birds and lilies; therefore, we can be assured that he will take care of Jesus’ disciples (vv.24, 27-28).
- We are unable to control the smallest things in life. Recognizing this frees us from the sinful desire to control our lives (vv.25-26).
In conjunction with the command “do not be anxious,” Jesus commands us in 12:29, “And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.” I take the word “seek” to mean “to live for” something/someone as the overarching purpose of our lives. Jesus is saying, “Don’t live for your basic needs like food and drink and clothing” which could also be understood as “Don’t live to preserve your life.”
“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33).
If we think life is food, drink, or clothing and we live for that, we will lose our life in the life to come. Self-preservation leads to eternal destruction. Self-preservation feeds anxiety also. Anxiety serves as a foretaste of the loss to come. It is no wonder that those who live for themselves are also the unhappiest.
“Instead,” Jesus says, “seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you” (12:31). God has given us life and a body (v.22) for this overarching purpose: To seek his kingdom – to live for his purposes and glory.
The deeper issue underlying our anxiety is a lack of faith; “O you of little faith!” (v.28). George Muller said “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” Oh, how hard it is to believe and how easy it is to live a life of self-preservation! God calls you to seek his kingdom but what if your faith is weak? What if your will is weak?
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v.32). Do not fear and despair. Though you do not have the strength to believe, it is God’s good pleasure to give you the grace that you need to believe. Think on this – the very thing you fear you lack is the very thing that God is happy to give to you!
Therefore, let me suggest 4 simple practical steps of faith in order to fight anxiety and to seek God’s kingdom purposes.
Read the Bible every day
Make the daily reading of Scripture a non-negotiable. Let everything that you have to do in our day be secondary to the careful and prayerful reading of Scripture. God is faithful to pour out his grace upon you through his Word and strengthen your faith. “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). He is glad to do it!
Prayerfully confess & repent of habitual sins
I believe that the vast majority of our anxiety comes as a consequence from unrepented sin. If the Holy Spirit resides in us we will experience conviction for sin. Even this is a gracious gift from God, for the anguish of conviction drives us to confess our sin in prayer and to petition God for grace to repent. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). He is glad to do it!
Patiently cast your worries and anxieties upon God in prayer
Notice I said “patiently cast your worries and anxieties upon God in prayer.” God has not ordained prayer to expedite an outcome. Prayer is meant to humble us before Almighty God and to teach us how to trust in him. And when you pray, pray with great emotion. Heap those heavy anxieties on his broad shoulders. Trust God to be your strength. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). He is glad to do it!
Be a faithful and joyful church member
Draw near to the people and the ministries of your church. Fellowship with brothers and sisters. Be intentional to get to know them and to pray for them. Ask God to give you a love for them and joy in serving them. Spend time in the community surrounding your church. Prayer walk the neighborhood, asking God to move. Look for opportunities to share the gospel with people who live in that community. If possible, move into that community. Self-absorption and self-love are pillars of an anxious heart. Living for others and the gospel ministry will take your eyes off of yourself and put a strangle hold on anxiety. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). He is glad to do it!
Anxiety is great and our faith is weak, but Almighty God is happy to give us the grace that we need to fight anxiety and to live for him. Be strong in the Lord, friends.