How Well Do You Know Your Enemy, Satan? Feb.1, 2017 Standard Bearer

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (February 1, 2017) is once again filled with interesting, instructive, and edifying articles. One of them is a good follow up to yesterday’s post on spiritual warfare.

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Rev. Brian Huizinga (pastor of Hope PRC in Redlands, CA) is doing an extended series on the Christian’s spiritual warfare, under the rubric “Strength of Youth.” His latest piece continues to treat the importance of knowing our enemies – that triple foe of the believer: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh – with special focus on Satan, that grand deceiver and slanderer of saints past and present.

In this article, titled “Knowing Our Enemies: Satan,” Huizinga breaks down the “profile” of this foe into six (6) parts, the last two of which we post here.

In point #5 he states this about the devil:

Satan is my Constant Foe

  • Some enemies fatigue. Some lose focus. Some eventually give up. Not Satan (I Pet. 5:8).
  • Every day he is ready to meet the challenge of getting me to turn my back on God and walk toward hell, either boasting in iniquity or despairing in hopelessness. Whether I am ready for him when I first stir in bed at dawn or not, he is ready for me – ready to tempt me to have negative thoughts multiplying in my mind as I arise from my slumber, so that I begin my day gloomy, or to have me lose control of my emotions or tongue at the first encounter of something I do not like. He exerts his influence upon me in the sanctuary to make sure I get jealous of so-and-so as she walks in, to make sure I think about the game during congregational prayer, or to make sure that when we guys gather in our circle afterward we demean others, especially so-and-so with his dorky haircut. He is present on every date to make sure we get alone time and temptations to compromise our chastity. When I leave the job interview with no job, he tempts me to imagine I am a worthless failure. Even while I pray, he tempts me to think about something other than the immediate presence of God’s majesty, or to doubt that God really will forgive me, or that God even hears my confession. Relentless he is.

But he ends with this consoling truth (point #6):

Christ is Satan’s Lord

  • Satan is not the Lord of the universe but subject to my Christ who is. Not unto thee, Satan, but to our God will we forever exclaim and pray, “For in Jesus Christ Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever, Amen!”
  • Because Christ who bruised Satan’s head on the cross is Satan’s Lord, Satan will never claim and bring to perdition an elect child of the Lord (John 6:39, 10:29). Rather, the lake of fire will soon claim Satan forever (Rev. 20:10). My comfort is that I belong to the Lord.

Spiritual Warfare – The Breastplate of Righteousness

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we once again enjoyed and benefited from our Sunday night discussion groups. We are continuing our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (RHB, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

We are currently up to the chapters treating the armor of God as laid out in Eph.6:13-17:

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Tonight we looked at the second part of the armor – the breastplate of righteousness (v.14b). In the book this is explained in chapter 6 – “The Breastplate of Righteousness.” The authors take the position that this piece of armor refers both to righteousness in the objective sense (the imputed righteousness of our justification) and in the subjective sense (the imparted or infused righteousness of our sanctification).

Here is a profitable quote from the section explaining how the righteousness of our justification in Christ is a solid protector for our heart and soul against the attacks of Satan:

…No matter how hot the battle, our imputed righteousness – because it is Christ’s – cannot be, in any way, diminished or jeopardized. Our standing before God is completely secure once for all through Christ’s covering, and no attack of Satan can change this. Our hearts, then, are thoroughly protected from Satan’s accusations and lies, that we might withstand them.

And what does this mean specifically and concretely? Listen:

This first interpretation of righteousness call us continually to remember the flawless righteousness of our Lord when the devil brings a railing accusation against us. Our adversary accuses us saying, ‘What? You sinned again? That is because you are no good. Look how often you sin! You are nothing but a hypocrite! God wants nothing to do with hypocrites.’ The devil rubs our faces in our failures. He seeks to paralyze us and rob us of our joy and delight in the Lord. What are we to do in response to this?

That is indeed a critical question. Here’s how the authors tell us how to respond, negatively and positively:

Certainly we cannot proclaim our own righteousness to him since it is nothing more than filthy rags (Isa.64:6). Rather, we should promptly confess our sins to God.We must assure ourselves that although we are full of remaining sin, nonetheless, according to Romans 8:1, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.’ When the devil points his accusing finger at us, we should say with the apostle Paul, ‘Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us’ (Rom.8:33-34).

What great confidence, then, the objective righteousness of Christ gives to the true believer! It is the anchor of the soul when the devil comes against us. Our identity is in Christ, and Christ’s righteousness has been legally credited to our account in the courtroom of heaven (Kindle version).

Listen up! How to Listen to Sermons (5)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we continue to look at a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-4; tonight we consider #5 – “Be there week by week.”

I think you can discern why point #5 follows #4, as well as the points that go before that one. If preaching is what it is (God speaking His Word to us through an appointed servant, and He knows perfectly what we need), then we need to be in His appointed place of hearing – His instituted church – with our fellow hearers, to whom we are also accountable (cf. last week’s post).

And if that is so  (and it is!), then it is not enough to gather from time to time to hear God speak (one out of two sermons isn’t bad, is it?!), not enough to hear a message from the Bible when we feel like it and expect that that message is going to “strike home” perfectly and meet all our needs until the next time, whenever that is.

In chap.5 Ash goes after this faulty mentality and says in effect, “Yes, by all means hear the sermon in church, but be there week after week, not occasionally to listen sporadically.” This is how he explains why this is necessary:

The Bible is not designed to give me a series of instant fixes. It is God’s instrument to shape and mould my mind and my character into the likeness of Christ. And that takes time. I need to listen to the Bible passage being preached today, and to turn my heart to God in submission and trust today, not only because I may need that passage today, but because I may need that passage tomorrow. And tomorrow may be too late to learn it. I need to start learning it today, so that it can begin to sink in and change me. And this takes repetition, and reminder. Peter understands this when he writes, ‘I will always remind you of these things, even though you know” (2 Peter 1 v 12).

So we need, not a random series of sermon fixes, but to sit together regularly, week by week, under the systematically preached word of God. And as we are taken through the teaching of the Bible by patient exposition, gradually Christlikeness is worked into our characters, our affections, our desires, our decisions and our lives. We need to pray for this supernatural, gradual but lasting work to begin and continue in us, as we hear the word of God preached week by week (p.16).

Makes perfect sense, does it not? Think of the preaching as our necessary food, Christ being the meat and drink of our spiritual diet. And then read 1 Peter 2:1-3 and remind yourself of the hunger level we ought to have for this “milk of the Word.”

Friday Seminary Culture Session – Art History!

You may recall that for a few years now those providing food for the Friday brat/burger lunch at Seminary (we divide ourselves up into groups) have the opportunity also to provide a “cultural” experience for the entire group.

In the past we have enjoyed unique music, learned to sing the Psalms chant style, benefited from a presentation on coins from the biblical era, and learned about Philippino life, among other things.

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Today we were privileged to have Mr. Peter (Robert) Adams, retired PRCS teacher and former administrator/teacher at Eastside CS in Grand Rapids, give a presentation on art. It is actually a two-part presentation, with today’s being on the Renaissance and art, while next week’s will be on the Reformation and art.

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Today we learned how art was influenced by the humanism of the Renaissance movement, so that the Christian themes that once dominated art in early Christianity and in the Middle Ages were replaced by man-centered themes (as you will see from the pictures).

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Now we look forward to “part 2” next week and hearing about how the Reformation influenced art.

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For the rest of our “Friday fun” feature today, we include these pictures of a great gathering of deer last month in the Seminary’s “backyard.” First we counted 13, then a little later we counted 16 – the most we have ever seen at once on our grounds! The snow was gone after our January thaw, and the deer had “fresh” grass to nibble on. No doubt, thoughts of Spring were on their “minds.” They are on us humankind’s minds too. 🙂

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Hope the rest of your Friday is good too!

Published in: on February 10, 2017 at 3:10 PM  Leave a Comment  

Luther and the Reformation (2) – The Small Catechism, 1529

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This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we have begun a series of posts to run throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.

Today we take a preliminary look at Luther’s Small Catechism, sometimes called “Enchiridion,” a Latin word meaning small handbook or manual.

One of the earliest fruits of the Reformation was the development of a catechism curricula of Protestant (and later Reformed) truth and practice for the instruction of the youth and the adults of the church. Just as Rome recognized the importance of teaching the children of the church in her doctrines, so did the Reformers. Only they were intent on teaching the youth the truth and godliness of the Word of God, not the false teaching and ungodliness of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.

luther-small-catechism-1529And so, early on Luther wrote his small catechism (1529), to instruct and guide the members of the recently formed Protestant churches in the newly rediscovered doctrines of the Bible. The content was simple and clear, as this paragraph from a Lutheran website states:

The Small Catechism explores the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers, a table of duties for Christians, and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion.

For this post, we refer you to the preface of this catechism of Luther, where he deplored the spiritual condition of the church and implored the pastors and preachers to get about instructing their members in the basic truths and practices of the Christian faith.

Here are his opening lines of that Preface:

Martin Luther, to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers: grace, mercy, and peace be yours in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.

Oh, you bishops! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you! You command the Sacrament in one kind only, insist on the observance of your human ways, and yet are unconcerned whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or indeed any of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever!

Therefore dear brothers, for God’s sake I beg all of you who are pastors and preachers to devote yourselves sincerely to the duties of your office, that you feel compassion for the people entrusted to your care, and that you help us accordingly to inculcate this catechism in the people, especially the young. If you cannot do more, at least take the tables and charts for catechism instruction and drill the people in them word for word….

To read the rest of this powerful introduction to Luther’s catechism, go here. And when you are tempted to criticize or complain about the catechism lessons your children have to learn and you as parents have to help them learn, go back and read this preface.

Grammar Check – Fine Distinctions

hero-blue-bookThis is this week’s grammar lesson from GrammarBook.com e-newsletter, which came by email today. It was instructive for me, and I trust it will be for you too.

Such fine distinctions do matter, for both writers and readers. When you read about these examples, no doubt you will say as I did, “I’ve made that mistake.”

Plus, it is a great item for “Word Wednesday,” which I have gotten away from of late.

A Fine Distinction

How valid can a rule be if nobody knows or cares about it anymore?

That all depends on what the definition of “nobody” is. A lot of people I’ve been around seem to feel “nobody” applies to just about everybody 15-plus years younger or older than they are. Generational outcasts—the nerds, wonks, and misfits—also get labeled nobodies, although some of them grow up to be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

In many circles, alas, nobody is more of a nobody than a grammar geek—those verbal neat freaks with all their precious little rules. But if those of us who rail against diseased English shut up and went away, we like to believe the world would soon miss us. Amid the rampant demagoguery and disinformation, our guiding principle is sound: clarity and precision are worth the bother.

Here is a short list of increasingly ignored fine distinctions:

Transpire  The errant celebrity issued a statement through his attorney that he was “sorry and saddened over what transpired.” Make it “sorry and saddened over what happened.” Put a big shot together with his lawyer and brace yourself for pompous verbiage. This usage of transpire, though common, is a lethal combination: pretentious and incorrect. The word doesn’t mean occur or happen. Something that transpires is revealed or becomes known over time. It’s not simply what happened so much as what it all means in the bigger picture. The Oxford online dictionary gives this example: “It transpired that millions of dollars of debt had been hidden in a complex web of transactions.”

Condone vs. endorse  “I do not endorse or otherwise condone this,” intoned some anonymous official. Isn’t “condone” redundant in that sentence? Not at all—there’s a substantial difference: When you endorse something, you’re all for it; you’re proud to recommend it. To condone is to pardon, overlook, disregard. When you condone, there’s not much enthusiasm or pride involved. Someone who condones is being tolerant, not enthusiastic.

Persnickety  It’s a colloquial term for “too particular or precise.” (Some would say it describes people who maintain that convince and persuade aren’t synonyms.) How’s this for world-class persnickety: there are nitpickers who reject the word in favor of pernickety, which preceded persnickety by about a century.

Substitute vs. replace  “The chef substituted chocolate with carob in the brownie recipe.” Make that “replaced chocolate with carob” or “substituted carob for chocolate.” Don’t confuse the two or you’ll end up with shaky English to go with those ghastly carob brownies.

—Tom Stern

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 10:30 PM  Leave a Comment  

Identifying the Classics: (2) Bible Reading as a Model – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIn chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories (literary “taxonomy”).

And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classics, Part 1 and Part 2”).

Last time we began to look at that seventh chapter and took in some of Ryken’s thoughts on what makes a classic work of literature a Christian one (including that its content is distinctively Christian and that its viewpoint is decidedly Christian).

In the second half of “Christian Classics, Part 1” (Chap.7) Ryken looks at the “Bible reading as a model.” Here are his opening thoughts on this – well worth our reminder as we daily read God’s Word:

..There is a big difference between reading the Bible and reading the classics: the Bible is without error and is not on trial. It is our authority and not a book whose truth claims we need to assess. Its role for us as we read other classics is that of a standard by which we weigh their themes and moral vision. But in other ways our reading of the Bible provides good answers to the question of how we should read a Christian classic.

After which he goes on to say:

The first thing we can say about Bible reading is that, as Christians, we begin with the liberating knowledge that we will be nurtured by what we are about to read. These are the words of life, and we can find that exhilarating. Related to that, we know that reading the Bible is more than a purely literary experience. It is not less than that, but it is more. We know with our minds that reading literature of any kind is valuable to us as a potential source of insight into human experience, but often we need to work hard  to make sure that we are gaining and appropriating that insight. When we read the Bible, we are completely aware that this is the source of light for daily living. When we read a Christian classic, we experience something similar [pp.66-67].

Book Recommendation: The Thunder (John Knox) by D. Bond

thunder-jknox-dbondLooking for a good read for you and your teenagers in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year? Here’s a great suggestion – and there are others by Mr. Bond you will want to check out too, such as his historical novels on John Calvin (The Betrayal) and on John Wycliffe (The Revolt). And just out the end of January 2017 is his latest – Luther in Love. But before you get side-tracked by these titles, read the one recommended by Matt Kortus in this “Young Calvinists'” blog post last week.

Young Calvinists

The target audience of this blog is Christian young people (although if you don’t fit into this category, we hope you still read the blog!). With this in mind, I would like to recommend a book with the same target audience: The Thunder. This is a historical fiction about the life of John Knox written by Douglas Bond.

John Knox was the most influential man in bringing the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century to Scotland. God used Knox in order to bring the good news that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone to a land that was steeped in Roman Catholicism. Knox is especially well known as being a fiery preacher of the Reformed faith.

The Thunder is a historical fiction. As a fictional work, the author takes the liberty of creating narrative and expanding upon aspects of the history. At the same time, the book…

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Published in: on February 6, 2017 at 10:08 PM  Leave a Comment  

February “Tabletalk”: Christian Joy

tt-feb-2017With the beginning of a new month we need to introduce you to the February 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

This month the theme is simply “Joy,” with various articles dealing with “Joy in Our Work,” “Joy in Community,” “Future Joy,” and “Our Groaning Joy,” to name a few.

Editor Burk Parsons sets the tone for this issue with his introductory article “Joy in Christ Alone.” Here are a few of his thoughts on this vital subject:

Christianity is a religion of joy. Real joy comes from God, who has invaded us, conquered us, and liberated us from eternal death and sadness—who has given us hope and joy because He has poured out His love within our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us (Rom. 5:5). Joy comes from God, not from within. When we look within, we just get sad. We have joy only when we look outside ourselves to Christ. Without Christ, joy is not only hard to find, it’s impossible to find. The world desperately seeks joy, but in all the wrong places. However, our joy comes because Christ sought us, found us, and keeps us. We cannot have joy apart from Christ, because it doesn’t exist. Joy is not something we can conjure up.

The first featured article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and titled “To Enjoy Him Forever,” which you may recognize as coming from the first Q&A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. As Ferguson goes on to show, this Catechism also directs the child of God to the means God has appointed for finding joy in Him.

For this Lord’s day night I would direct you to his first two – joy in salvation and joy in revelation. Here are Ferguson’s explanations of how these lead to enjoying God:

Joy in Salvation

Enjoying God means relishing the salvation He gives us in Jesus Christ. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). God takes joy in our salvation (Luke 15:6–7, 9–10, 32). So should we. Here, Ephesians 1:3–14 provides a masterly delineation of this salvation in Christ. It is a gospel bath in which we should often luxuriate, rungs on a ladder we should frequently climb, in order to experience the joy of the Lord as our strength (Neh. 8:10). While we are commanded to have joy, the resources to do so are outside of ourselves, known only through union with Christ.

Joy in Revelation

Joy issues from devouring inscripturated revelation. Psalm 119 bears repeated witness to this. The psalmist “delights” in God’s testimonies “as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:14; see also vv. 35, 47, 70, 77, 103, 162, 174). Think of Jesus’ words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Does He mean He will find His joy in us, so that our joy may be full, or that His joy will be in us so that our joy may be full? Both, surely, are true. We find full joy in the Lord only when we know He finds His joy in us. The pathway to joy, then, is to give ourselves maximum exposure to His Word and to let it dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). It is joy-food for the joy-hungry soul.

Once again it is evident that there is much profitable reading for the mind and soul in the latest Tabletalk. Would you like to learn more about Christian joy – the only joy there is? Then dig in to these articles! Follow the Ligonier link below the get started.

I might also add that the daily devotions this year are on Reformation themes, in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation. January’s devotions were on the doctrine of God, while February’s cover the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Source: Tabletalk: The Devotional Magazine of Ligonier Ministries

Listen Up! How to Listen to Sermons (4)

listen-up-ashAt the beginning of this new year we are examining a booklet that instructs God’s people in how to listen to sermons. The booklet is titled Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), written by Christopher Ash.

Lest we lose the “big picture”, let’s put before us again the seven main points Ash makes in the book – the “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening,” as he calls them:

  1. Expect God to speak
  2. Admit God knows better than you
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage says
  4. Hear the sermon in church
  5. Be there week by week
  6. Do what the Bible says
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

We have considered in past weeks #s 1-3; tonight we consider #4 – “hear the sermon in church.” This may seem so obvious to us, but Ash makes another important point here, especially in light of our day of “virtual” church (concerning which he says “there is no such thing”!) and private “digital” listening to sermons via the Internet anytime we want, maybe sometimes in lieu of the Word in church on Sunday with God’s people.

“So what” you say? Listen up! as Ash reminds us why we must “hear the sermon in church.”

…The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons as a people gathered together; they are not preached so that we can listen to them solo later.

…This church was defined by the call of the word of God to gather under the word of God. It began when God said to Moses: ‘Assemble the people before me to hear my words” (Deuteronomy 4 v 10). This set the standard shape and pattern for the people of God, who are gathered by the word of God (God takes the initiative to summon them, and us) and gathered to sit together under the word of God (‘to hear my words’), to be shaped together by His word. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals to be each like Christ, but to form a Christlike people.

We may even say that preaching is properly done only when the people of God in a local church gather. When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching in the past (pp.12-13).

Do you see the biblical basis for what Ash says? Do we see the pattern God set for us? But there are practical reasons why we need to hear the word together too. I like what Ash says next:

When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to one another for our response. Hearing while gathered is significantly better than hearing alone.

…When we listen together, you know what message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says. By being with you, I make it easier for myself to respond the way I know I ought to respond. …If I pay no attention to the sermon I heard with you sitting beside me, you will know, and I would hate you to know I wasn’t listening!

When we listen together, we respond together… (pp.13-14).

Isn’t that a valid point? And a very practical one? I need you to help me listen to the Word preached properly. And you need me. And so we need to be in church together to hear the Word together.

Let that truth help us prepare for worship tomorrow. Including the determination to be there. In church. Next to you. I’m going to pray for the preacher and for God’s blessing on the Word he brings. And for you as you hear. Will you pray for me? We are in this “together.”