Note to Self: Welcome (Hospitality)

Begin by reading Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2.

Dear Self,

Hospitality… is the will of God for you. God commands you to be hospitable. …He calls you to be hospitable because he himself is a welcomer of strangers and loves the sojourner.

…Throughout history, God has called his people to welcome outsiders into their cities, homes, and lives. Israel was commanded to practice hospitality with their Jewish neighbors but also to welcome, care for, and bless those who visited their cities. Likewise, the church is also commanded to welcome both believers and unbelievers.

…The most basic idea behind hospitality is to care for outsiders in a way that you would care for insiders. You welcome them. So, when was the last time you invited outsiders into your home? Into your busy life? Outsiders are not those close to you but those who are not yet a part of your life. This includes people at church you have not taken the time to meet as well as your neighbors and coworkers you do not yet know. They may be outside or inside the kingdom, but they are currently outside of your ministry influence.

Of course there is no better picture of hospitality than what we find in the gospel, for in the gospel God calls those who were not his people, ‘My people.” By faith we are orphans who have been adopted into God’s family, made coheirs with Christ, and are promised a place at his table in the kingdom to come. God has accepted you and welcomed you in Christ. You know what it is to be an outsider and yet received as an insider, so you should be ready to show others what that kind of grace looks like on a smaller scale in your home.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.22 “Welcome” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.81-82.

The Divine Will – The Valley of Vision

ValleyofVisionOn this Sunday morning we consider another Puritan prayer devotion from the book The Valley of Vision edited by Arthur Bennett (Banner of Truth, c.1975).

This prayer is taken from the first section “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and is titled “The Divine Will.”

The Divine Will

“O Lord,

I hang on thee; I see, believe, live when thy will, not mine, is done;

I can plead nothing in myself in regard of any worthiness and grace, in regard of thy providence and promises, but only thy good pleasure.

If thy mercy make me poor and vile, blessed be thou!

Prayers arising from my need are preparations for future mercies;

Help me honor thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith.

Show me what sins hide me from thee and eclipse thy love;

Help me to humble myself for past evils, to be resolved to walk with more care,

For if I do not walk holily before thee, how can I be assured of my salvation?

It is the meek and humble who are shown thy covenant, know thy will, are pardoned and healed, who by faith depend and rest upon grace, who are sanctified and quickened, who evidence thy love.

Help me to pray in faith and so find thy will, by leaning hard on thy rich free mercy, by believing that thou wilt give what thou hast promised;

Strengthen me to pray with the conviction that whatever I receive is thy gift, so that I may pray until prayer be granted;

Teach me to believe that all degrees of mercy arise from several degrees of prayer, that when faith is begun it is imperfect and must grow, as chapped ground opens wider and wider until rain comes.

So shall I wait thy will, pray for it to be done, and by thy grace become fully obedient.”

You may find all these devotionals on the Banner of Truth website.

Justin Martyr – Apology (1)

Twenty-first-century Christians can learn much from the lives and writings of the early believers. Especially is this the case when it comes to facing persecution – and facing it biblically.

Justin-MartyrThe “Apology” (that is, defense of the faith and life of Christians) of Justin Martyr (c.100-c.165) is a model of Christian witness to the unbelieving world and the persecuting state. In the weeks and months ahead we plan to post some sections from his apologies (first and second). For links to his writings, visit this site.

This is taken from chapter three of Justin’s first apology:

CHAPTER III — CLAIM OF JUDICIAL INVESTIGATION.

But lest any one think that this is an unreasonable and reckless utterance, we demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve; [or rather, indeed, we ourselves will punish them.] But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men, and indeed rather yourselves, who think fit to direct affairs, not by judgment, but by passion. And every sober-minded person will declare this to be the only fair and equitable adjustment, namely, that the subjects render an unexceptional account of their own life and doctrine; and that, on the other hand, the rulers should give their decision in obedience, not to violence and tyranny, but to piety and philosophy. For thus would both rulers and ruled reap benefit. For even one of the ancients somewhere said, “Unless both rulers and ruled philosophize, it is impossible to make states blessed.” It is our task, therefore, to afford to all an opportunity of inspecting our life and teachings, lest, on account of those who are accustomed to be ignorant of our affairs, we should incur the penalty due to them for mental blindness; and it is your business, when you hear us, to be found, as reason demands, good judges. For if, when ye have learned the truth, you do not what is just, you will be before God without excuse.

Word Wednesday: Candle – Rev.W. Langerak

StandardBearerThe latest biblical word study has been published in the July 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer. This time Rev. W. (Bill) Langerak writes about the meaning and significance of the word “candle.”

We make it our Word Wednesday feature today. May his thoughts enlighten your mind and encourage you to shine as lights in this world of darkness.

Candle

The candle is a significant biblical picture.  This should not be that surprising, since for thousands of years candles were a prominent appliance in the everyday life and even worship of the church.  The fact that candles have little practical value and use today does not diminish their continued spiritual significance as an enlightening symbol for us.

   In general, the candle symbolizes the presence, life, and knowledge of God.  In a real sense, God gives to every man a candle.  The spirit of man (that God breathed into him in the beginning) is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly (Prov. 20:27).  But such light is not grace to all.  God’s presence indeed gives life and knowledge, but it also condemns man and his use of that life as unrighteous, unthankful, and wicked.  There is no reward to the evil man, and in anger the Lord shall put out the candle of the wicked (Prov. 24:20; Job 21:17).  His sentence upon man’s kingdom and culture of sin is that “the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee” (Rev. 18:23).  Only in Christ is God’s presence a candle of grace.  Knowing this, the believer joyfully exclaims, “Thou wilt light my candle; the Lord God will enlighten my darkness” (Ps. 18:28).  This candle of the righteous shines so he can walk in darkness (Job 29:3).  The smoking flax (wick) of this candle the Lord will never quench (Is. 42:3).  And the candle of the virtuous woman goes not out by night, not merely because her godly care knows no limits, but because she lives constantly in the light of God’s gracious presence.

   The candle is also a glorious picture of the church.  A notable feature in the tabernacle was the menorah, a splendid seven-branched candlestick.  It is mentioned 22 times in the Torah, including how the Lord ordered it to be crafted out of pure gold, decorated with gold almond blossoms, and fueled by the purest olive oil (Ex. 25:31-35).  When moved, it was to be carefully wrapped in fine blue cloth, protected in a leather case, and carried on a pole.  When at rest in God’s house, it was to be lit every night. And on the day of dedication, the Lord gave special instruction from behind the veil that its candles were to be mounted to illuminate the way to His mercy (Num. 7:89-8:4).  Night and day, the Lord was always home, blessing His covenant people with the light of His Spirit, guiding them to His unfailing grace through His atoning sacrifice.

   This picture finds further development in the new covenant vision of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:11-13).  Here, the candles represent more clearly, not simply the presence of God with us, but the church itself as she lives in the world—distinct yet united, imperfect yet glorious in righteousness and works of holiness, by Christ in their midst by His Spirit (Rev. 1:20).  As a candle, the church is a continual witness to the grace and glory of God enlightening them before the whole earth (Rev. 11:4).  And if any particular church stubbornly refuses to be such a witness by leaving her love for the Lord to walk with the world in unrighteousness, the Lord can and does remove such a candle out of its place (Rev. 2:5). 

   As candles lit by the Holy Spirit of Christ in the midst of a world dark with sin, the true church and her members have only one purpose:  to broadcast the light in us of the power of God’s grace to forgive sins, sanctify, and give eternal life.  Unlit candles are useless.  So are flickering ones.  To shine brightly, the whole body must be full of light.  Take heed, therefore, that the light in you be not darkness (Luke 11:35-36).  Equally useless are bright candles hidden in foolishness, fear, or shame.  Candles are not meant to be placed under a bed or a bushel (Mark 4:21).  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world; a city set on an hill that cannot be hid.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). 

   Yet, in spite of their significance and value here, in the new creation all this changes.  There will be no candles there.  Not one.  Why?  Because there in Jesus’ presence, there shall be no night, only day; and no darkness, only light (Rev. 22:5).

For more such word studies from the Scriptures, visit this section of the PRC website.

Note to Self – Initiate

Begin by reading and meditating on Matthew 28:19-20.

God has placed you in a unique context and equipped you in a unique way to be the one who reaches out to those in need – this means those who need encouragement as well as those who need correction. And this includes those who do not know Jesus, as well as his disciples, those who are apparently healthy, and those who are obviously hurting. You will have more opportunities to initiate than you can take, but you are likely to take fewer than you should.

Look around yourself. God is giving you chances to act. He has put people near you who need your help financially, your time relationally, and your words of bold encouragement and gentle rebuke. The opportunities are always there, but they are difficult to see if you are too focused on yourself. You must take the time to be truly present where God has put you. Begin to think of others as they really are – men and women in need of grace.

What will compel you to take the first step toward those around you in need? The deepness of their need? The desperateness of their situation? Perhaps it will be an understanding of what you have received from others who have been faithful to God and have taken the initiative with you, to help you see the truth, know Christ, grow in grace, and persevere through difficulty. Or maybe it will be that God not only commands you to do this but empowers you to do it, as well. Wherever you are, today you should be the first to move. Initiate for the glory of God and the good of those around you.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.21 “Initiate” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.79-80.

The Birds’ Habitat – and Man’s

Barred-Owl-ClarksonLast week on my summer reading list I referenced a bird-watching book by Margaret Clarkson. Today I would like to give you another glimpse of how she handles this subject and the applications she makes to the Christian life.

In chapter five of Conversations With a Barred Owl (Zondervan, 1975; 115 pp.), Clarkson treats the special subject of bird habitats in connection with her chapter on loons. She writes at the beginning,

All living things, including man himself, can exist only in a particular environment. A study of habitat and the ways in which each species is adapted to life in its own element is both fascinating and rewarding.

Then, after describing in more detail some of the habitats of the bird world, she ends with these comments, including a wise application for us:

When a bird has found the habitat wherein by ceaseless endeavor it is possible for him to meet all his necessary needs, that bird will flourish, for he is functioning in his true environment. There and there only will he nest and produce his young; there alone will he know freedom, joy, and total harmony throughout all his being. In total fusion with his world, he finds his destiny – total fulfillment of that for which he was made.

Man’s natural environment is God. If we would realize that destiny for which we were created and redeemed, we must find it in God through Jesus Christ. Nowhere else can we ever be truly and completely at home. Why is it that we are so much slower than God’s feathered children to realize and adapt to our soul’s true habitat (p.25)?

Shall we strive to live in our proper spiritual habitat today as God’s children?

Published in: on July 11, 2016 at 7:12 AM  Comments (1)  

Not Ready for Church – J. Thorn

The title above heads a weekend devotional written by pastor Joe Thorn and published in the June 2016 issue of Tabletalk.

churchatsunriseThe following is taken from this profitable article and contains Thorn’s counsel for those times when we do not feel ready to go to church and worship. His thoughts are based on Psalm 73:16-17:

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

Here are some of thoughts:

…There are those Sundays when we feel as though we are not ready for worship. Our hearts are cold, our week was fraught with failure, and the idea of ‘going to church’ seems to be an exercise in futility if not an act of hypocrisy. Somehow, we believe the lie that it is better to stay home and try again next week when our hearts will be right. But the troubled soul is meant for corporate worship, and that is exactly where we need to be [At this point Thorn quotes Ps.73:16-17).

…The person who is slow to draw near to God because of sin or doubt is the person who will not find hope. Such is the man whose faith only continues to wither and whose strength continues to weaken, for in pulling back from the Lord and the means of grace, we deny ourselves access to the primary way in which God speaks to our hearts and lives. Staying home and licking our wounds does not heal but callouses the soul, making us increasingly less sensitive to the truth we need to hear.

The local church assembled for worshiping our triune God is the place where God’s Word and Spirit are at work to move us to repentance, revive our hearts, instruct our minds, and reveal to us the plan and purpose of God in all things.

…When we are not ready for church, we must remember that the church is ready for us. Jesus is ready for us. And grace abounds for the sinner who is willing to come to Christ (p.57).

Prayers of the Reformers (17)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this first Lord’s Day in July we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

The first is taken from the section “Prayers for Spiritual Growth, Courage, and Strength” while the second is from that of “Prayers for All Sorts and Conditions.” (I have slightly edited them). Both are fitting for our worship today and for our work and walk in the week to come.

That God may uphold us (Matt.26:57-75)

O merciful God, preserve our hearts from pride, from vainglory, and from shameful covetousness: Give us grace to abide in Thy holy vocation, and to be thankful for Thy grace; that, the fall of thy apostle being always before our eyes, we may walk in Thy fear before Thee. For if we stand, we must take heed that we fall not, neither despise those that as yet do not stand.

Make us to continue in Thy grace; for nothing have we, saving only that which we have received of Thee. And if of weakness O Lord,we fall, put Thy hand under us, O Lord, and suffer us not to despair in sin; but cause us with repentance and sorrow for our offense to resort unto Thee.

O keep us, that we neither despair nor betray Thy dearly beloved Son, whom Thou through Thy gospel dost send unto us, for without Him is no safeguard, only eternal death and damnation. From which keep us, good Lord, for Thy mercies’ sake. Amen.

[Attributed to Miles Coverdale, 1488-1569]

For disciples of Christ
“Seal the teaching among my disciples” (Isaiah 8:16).

O Lord God, we see that a horrible darkness and ignorance of Thy Word will come, that many men will forsake Christ and faith and true prayer and genuine worship, even as it has happened in the past. We grieve to think of the state of Thy church.

But, O God, we humbly beseech Thee never to allow the true faith which Thou hast delivered to us to perish among us. Preserve Thy faith that it may be delivered pure and uncorrupted to our posterity.

We beseech Thee, seal Thy law in us, lest we pervert Thy Word, or twist its natural and true meaning with some sinister interpretation, as has happened in the past and happens even now.

Confirm our hearts with Thy Holy Spirit, that Thy truth may shine in us, that through our ministry Thy truth may proceed pure and uncorrupted to those who will come after us. Amen.

[Attributed to Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560]

Overcoming Legalism – Sean M. Lucas

TT-June-2016You will recall that legalism is the theme of the June Tabletalk (the subtitle says it all: “the delusion of man-made religion”). In the last full-featured article on the subject, Dr. Sean M. Lucas addresses how to overcome legalism, with the revealing subtitle – “Let No One Disqualify You.”

His answer to the sin of legalism is really simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of who Christ is for us, what He has done for us, and what we are in Him.

Here is a part of what he has to say (worth your time reading the rest of his article too):

Pilgrim’s Progress

This gospel formation means that Christianity really isn’t about rule-keeping. To be sure, a Christian obeys God’s Word, but the way to obedience is not by focusing on keeping the rules, flying right, and doing better. At the heart of what Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is to explode the notion that righteousness is about external obedience to the law. When He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), He tells us that the way to righteousness is not through mere external obedience. Instead, the way to a righteous life is the Spirit’s inside-out transformation as we progress in living into the gospel. As we use the means of grace—including corporate worship that centers on the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, as well as private worship—God meets us, drives the gospel into our hearts, confronts our patterns of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and makes us new.

But this sort of gospel transformation takes time. We progress in it as we are formed and shaped and molded by the Spirit’s work. As we go further up and farther in, we see more sin, confront more deception, believe more gospel, receive more divine comfort. We learn by experience and gain wisdom and insight as we turn from folly to reverence and love the Lord.

And here’s the thing: as we live in step with the Spirit, we actually live in ways that “keep the rules.” Those who bear the Spirit-fruit of love will be those who keep the two tables of the Ten Commandments. Those who bear joy will know the strength to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Those who bear peace will be whole and wholesome, not restless or anxious. And so forth. We keep the rules, not by focusing on them as merely deeds that must be done, but by focusing our hearts on Jesus, who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing by the Spirit in us to make us fulfill the law.

Source: Overcoming Legalism by Sean Michael Lucas

Note to Self: Forgive

Begin by reading and meditating on Colossians 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

You need to forgive. You need to. …You need to forgive others because God in Jesus Christ has forgiven you. Your infinitely holy and just Maker has not held your sins against you, but instead has held them against his Son on the cross. Your faith rests squarely on this act of substitution.

Your refusal to forgive one who has sinned against you is a manifestation of hypocrisy – a telltale sign that either you have not experienced God’s forgiving grace, or that you take such grace for granted. Why do you withhold what has been given so freely to you? Have your offenders done worse than you? Are their crimes against you more severe than your crimes against God and others? When you refuse to forgive, it can only mean that you have not yet come to understand forgiveness, or you have been taking it for granted and have not sufficiently learned from it.

You need to forgive to make much of Jesus and his gospel. This is the real reason to extend forgiveness to the undeserving. …Forgiveness points us all back to our greatest need – reconciliation to God by way of his own work.

…While forgiveness is never easy, it is also never impossible – not for those who have been saved by the grace of God. For the grace of salvation not only secures your forgiveness and models it for you, but it also empowers forgiveness by giving you a new heart and spirit.

You can forgive because you learned it in the gospel. …The gospel compels you to forgive, and it enables you to do so.

Give yourself to meditation on the cross; learn forgiveness, and walk in it.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.20 “Forgive” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.77-78.