God’s Perfect Goodness

What do you think about when you hear the word “justice?” Unfortunately, most of us immediately think of the injustice in the world, rather than positive lawfulness, moral uprightness, or equitableness. Today, Black Lives Matter, and other movements force us to think about justice, which God must intend since he is the sovereign first cause of all events and circumstances. But when we compare the court rulings for crimes to “issue-related” injustice, we can be a bit stymied. For example, compare these three recent news items: “A federal judge in San Antonio sentenced 32-year-old Trorice Crawford of San Diego, California, to 46 months in federal prison for his role in an identity-theft and fraud scheme that victimized thousands of U.S. service members and veterans, the Department of Justice announced today… A Tennessee healthcare executive was sentenced to 42 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release today for his role in an approximately $4 million kickback scheme…Yesterday, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice held a hearing on community trust and respect for law enforcement.” (1) The first two are easy to appreciate—punishment for those who have committed crimes against individuals or organizations. However, the third item, about “trust and respect for law enforcement” may make us a little uncomfortable, and raise questions about the power and force used by law enforcement officers, or their roles in protests and public events. However, a biblical worldview reminds us that our sinfulness has always infected humankind’s justice. Therefore, worldly justice will never be perfect or as successful as we might like. But God’s justice is perfect because he is perfect. His righteousness, moral purity, and absolute holiness are all aspects of his goodness.

As we segue to the next fruit of the Spirit, goodness, (Galatians 5:22-23), we will begin with a consideration of God’s goodness, as we experience it in life, and as he intends that we understand it. Psalm 145:4-9 provides our theme for this devotion to begin our study of biblical goodness. “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” (Psalms 145:4-9)

God’s people spoke of his great deeds and mercies, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Joseph, who clearly understood God’s sovereign goodness. When confronted with a visit from his estranged brothers, what was his response? “So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, please.’ And they came near. And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’” (Genesis 45:4-9) Later he proclaimed, “‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’” (Genesis 50:20-21)

“What gave Joseph the grace to make this remarkable reply? There is only one answer: Joseph knew God. In particular, he knew two things about God. He knew that God is sovereign—that nothing ever comes into the life of any one of his children that he has not approved first; there are no accidents…And he knew that God is good—therefore, the things that come into our lives by God’s sovereignty are for our benefit (and for others’) and not for our harm. What Joseph saw and spoke of in this next-to-last scene of his earthly life is what the apostle Paul wrote about eloquently hundreds of years later… ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Rom. 8:28). It is impossible to overestimate the wonder of this verse…If all things worked together for our good without our knowing it, it would be a wonderful fact even though we might not find out about it until much later. But we do not have to wait until later. We can know it now. We can know that all that enters our lives is actually working for good now. This knowledge is by faith…It is not always by sight. But it is nevertheless certain, because it is based on the character of God, who reveals himself to us as both sovereign and benevolent….in proof of this conviction I submit the example of the greatest evil in all history producing the greatest good imaginable. I refer to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2) God’s goodness is seen in his majestic works, especially in Christ’s merciful, gracious, and loving atonement. Will we embrace and remember God’s joyful, extraordinary goodness in Christ that is our inheritance?

Psalm 145 speaks of remembering, but do we actually know what we remember? We tend to remember the hard times and trials in our lives more than those when God’s goodness covers us, protects or prevents difficulties, or intercedes in practical ways. So we have to learn how to remember biblically. The more time we spend in God’s Word, the better we know him and are content with his goodness. We can work for and expect the highest level of goodness in the world without so many disappointments, knowing that God’s goodness and justice will prevail in the new heavens and new earth. The birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ provide us with a complete picture of God’s goodness. We love to sing about Jesus’s love and work for us because, by it, God covers us, remakes us, and seals us with his goodness. Hymns such as “Amazing Grace,” “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” “To God Be the Glory,” and many others remind us of God’s divine goodness in his mercy and justice performed on the cross.

Verse 9 of Psalm 145 states, “‘The Lord is good to all,’…which is to be understood not of the general and providential goodness of God to all men, to all his creatures, and the works of his hands; but of the special goodness of Christ…which extends to all the chosen people of God; who are all loved by Christ, redeemed by him, justified and glorified by him; and to Gentiles as well as Jews; for whom he tasted death, laid down his life a ransom for them, and became the propitiation for their sins.” (3) God’s goodness is especially seen in Christ’s merciful, gracious, and loving atonement. Therefore, our virtue is particularly biblical when it is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But how often do we remember God’s joyful, extraordinary goodness in Christ that is our inheritance? And if we are so forgetful, how can we hope to grow in biblical goodness? Be encouraged—“I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41)

(1) https://www.justice.gov/news

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Genesis 50:15-21, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalms 145:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-145.html

July 10, 2020

The Benefits of Kindness in God’s Providence

My recent conversations with friends have included our mutual agreement about the sovereignty of God and his overarching providence during the coronavirus pandemic. Knowing that our good, holy, and purposeful God is the first cause and administrator of all events helps us tremendously. I have also realized how the kindnesses of my neighbors, friends, dog trainer, retirement staff, and even my vet have encouraged me to trust God and boldly step out in faith to serve him. It’s counter-cultural to put kindness first—those who do are either excessively flattered or scorned for being soft. Kindness is not always soft, but it is always active. In the past, I valued proactiveness, skillfulness, adaptiveness, and effectiveness more than spiritual fruits. Now, each time I study the fruits of the Spirit, I am under conviction to change my values and thinking—such is the work of sanctification. I pray the same for you. Today, we will consider three passages about kindness to the apostles in the first-century church planting. These three examples show how God supplies kindness from others to encourage and extend gospel ministry. My goal is to stimulate all of us to recognize, appreciate, and respond biblically to the considerations of others, for the sake of Christ and our witness for him.

The first passage is from Acts 10 when God extended an invitation to the Gentiles beyond Jerusalem to come to Christ through Peter’s ministry. Peter was finally convinced by God’s visions to go to Caesarea (10:17-23), which Cornelius considered a great kindness. “So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:33) Cornelius’s “thankfulness to Peter for coming…not only doing that which was right in the sight of God, but was kind in him, and acceptable to Cornelius and his house” blessed the entire group. (1) Peter’s thinking was transformed, as was his heart and conduct. This work of sanctification is what we should all pray for, in ourselves and others. He was starting a journey toward unbiased respect and compassion for all people, regardless of their past beliefs. Peter didn’t enter Cornelius’s home to convince him to change; the man had already heard from the Lord and was at the point of conversion. Perhaps an aside here is called for—may we all be drawn to those primed by God’s Spirit, curious and interested—and not push on those who are disinterested. The work of redemption is God’s—but he will use us to accomplish it and others’ kindness to grow his kingdom.

On the other side, Cornelius’s kindness resulted in Peter’s encouragement to preach, and without it, far fewer people would have been reached. “Never did a preacher have a better prepared audience.” (2) He did everything possible to assist Peter and comply with God’s calling. “Cornelius had prepared his whole household, and now they were all waiting to hear Peter. I suppose Cornelius had figured out how long the trip to and the return from Joppa would take. He knew that those he had sent would not delay. He knew exactly when they would arrive. So there he was. He had everybody assembled. God had prepared Cornelius, the preacher, and the audience.” (3) Many received the gift of regeneration that day, because of Peter’s and Cornelius’s submission to the Lord and their great kindness toward each other.

Now, let’s jump to the end of the book of Acts, after the third missionary journey when Paul was in route to Rome “…when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius…The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for…” (Acts 27:1, 3). After that, Paul advised the Romans that they should not try to traverse the sea. A dangerous storm arose and the ship was in danger of capsizing. “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.’” (27:21-26) Maybe the other men thought Paul was out of his mind, except Julius. “But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” (Acts 27:43-44) Paul and Julius became friends, which resulted in mercy and compassion for all those on board—prisoners and guards. The fact that the soldiers feared the prisoners’ escape makes Julius’s choice even more commendable—he risked his career and probably his life to helping Paul.

John Gill comments: “Sailing at this time was dangerous, as the saints’ passage through this world always is, and especially now in these last and perilous days; partly through the abounding of immorality on the one hand, and partly through the spread of error and heresy on the other…the word of the Lord being precious, there being a famine of hearing the word; or for want of appetite to it: and last of all, there was a design formed by the soldiers to kill Paul, and the prisoners, but were prevented by the centurion.” (5) God supplies kindness from others to encourage and extend gospel ministry. In Acts 28, Luke writes, “After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold…Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him.” (vs.1-2, 7-8) Once again, deliverance from danger and the opportunity to witness the healing power of Christ resulted from the kindness of all parties. “God can make strangers to be friends; friends in distress…The Lord raises up friends for his people in every place whither he leads them, and makes them blessings to those in affliction.” (6) “Though the inhabitants could not understand their language, they understood their case, and were very civil and humane to them, and showed them extraordinary kindness: for they kindled a fire…for a large fire it must be to be of service to such a number of people, in such a condition as they were…nothing was more needful and more agreeable to them than a large fire.” (7) Then, “…the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.” (28:9-10)

The kindness of the island residents to build a fire led to Paul getting bitten by a snake, which led to them witnessing Christ’s power in another healing. What chain reaction of kindness have you seen in your family, neighborhood, or church lately? What might happen if you started one, after praying for God’s provision and opportunity? How has the kindness of others encouraged you in your ministry or witness? Isn’t this exact time when we should be thinking, praying, and choosing to extend the gospel to the kind people all around us? Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18) Let’s not underestimate the power of Spiritual fruit in our witness for Christ.

(1) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 10:33,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-10.html

(2) Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Acts 10:33, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Acts 10:33, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 27:44, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-27.html

(5) Gill, Ibid.

(6) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Acts 28:1-10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/proverbs-30.html

(7) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 28, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-28.html

(8) Gill, Ibid. 

July 3, 2020

Excessive Kindness and Mercy

As the new owner of a rescue puppy who is training him seven days a week, he was bound to become the focus of my introduction. It’s not that he’s the most significant thing in my life, but he’s the closest, with the most immediate needs, and I am the one responsible for him. I have friends who suffer from illnesses, injuries, trials with adult children, and relatives with coronavirus. I also grieve for those who have lost their businesses and jobs, and my elderly neighbors lose intellectual ground without activities and visitors. They are all more important, but at a little distance or not in my daily circle, so we pray and stay in touch. However, GG is right here in my apartment, depending on me for everything and still can’t be left alone. So my world is now tied to him, and the number of spiritual applications arising from his ongoing training is enormous. The most significant parallel is how I use positive training methods to teach GG (God’s Gift) to obey me, with gentleness, calmness, and patience. (Except when I forget.) Kindness, gentleness, mercy, and good judgments seem to be the key to having a kind, gentle dog. When we recognize God’s gracious tenderness toward us, we also become more like him. Shame on us if we don’t learn and grow with God through our daily encounters with people and creation.

I can’t command GG to be gentle and kind, but God does command us to be so with everyone, and especially the most vulnerable among us. “And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.’” (Zechariah 7:8-10) This passage provides the theme and foundation of today’s devotion. The Lord commands and empowers us to be exceedingly just, kind, merciful, and forgiving to one another. In Christ, we must extend gospel kindness, mercy, and justice to those in need, rather than oppress those who are weak and powerless or fall back on evil devises for each other. Either we live our gospel kindness or resort to our sin nature, without respect to Christ. During the extended pandemic, we may become discouraged or disheartened. But it was more difficult for the Israelites who concluded their seventy-year exile only to deal with a harsh reality of life in a decimated Jerusalem. “For the exiles who returned to Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day, the reality fell far short of the earlier prophetic hope. The community faced many challenges: financial hardship, opposition from outside enemies, and low morale. There were also social problems, possibly on account of disputes between those who returned and those who remained in the land. It was a time of disappointment, disillusionment, despondency, and guilt.” (1) Now, we have those who feel strongly about wearing masks and staying home, and those disagreeing. We are in danger of the same disillusionment as social isolation continues indefinitely.

In Zechariah’s time, “…there are two things for which the people of his day are faulted…it did not make any difference whether they were fasting or feasting. In each case they were pleasing themselves. Their celebrations had nothing to do with true religion. The second thing for which the people are faulted is that their worship, whether by fasting or by anything else, did not lead to acts of mercy to the abandoned and oppressed. Yet this is what Isaiah, Amos, Samuel, Moses, and indeed all the prophets and writers of Scripture called for. Without such acts the forms of religion are not true religion. Without justice the worship of God, however intense or prolonged, is blasphemy.” (2) “Zechariah calls the people to trust and obey God’s word. He calls on them to get on with and complete the rebuilding of the temple in anticipation of God’s return to establish his kingdom, a kingdom in which God will throw down all opposition by the nations and bring forgiveness and cleansing through his Messiah. In proclaiming this message, Zechariah maintains that the restoration hopes of the earlier prophets still stand, and he calls God’s people to live in light of these promises.” (3) Are we not focusing too much on our circumstances, materialism, and freedoms today? Should we not be looking more to the Lord, for how would he further our sanctification during this time and crystalize our faith? Do we not have a promise of eternal redemption and glorious life in the Lamb’s presence, as the purified Bride of Christ? Does God not have the right to command us to excessive tenderness, forgiveness, justice, and mercy? Last week we considered the quality of our kindness, but should we not contemplate the degree or quantity of our compassion? After all, we are Christ’s, and his kind-heartedness is infinite, as is the Spirit’s.

I have no idea what GG has experienced over the last nine months, but I know he can’t get enough love, affection, and direction. I should be so eager to obey God as he is to follow me, and I have much more reason, considering how Christ has rescued me. Only through the work of Christ in our hearts and our collective Body can we obey God’s command for true judgments, kindness, and mercy to all people. “We have to recognize that sin is a fact of life, not just a shortcoming. Sin is blatant mutiny against God, and either sin or God must die in my life…The culmination of sin was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and what was true in the history of God on earth will also be true in your history and in mine— that is, sin will kill the life of God in us. We must mentally bring ourselves to terms with this fact of sin. It is the only explanation why Jesus Christ came to earth, and it is the explanation of the grief and sorrow of life.” (4)

Christ’s call to our mutual grace contrasts with the work of sin in our hearts and lives. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) We are changed people through Christ; you and I are not the same human beings we were before his redemption was applied to us by God’s Spirit. I renamed my dog GG because he is not the same dog he was three weeks ago. He is gentler, calmer, with a purpose, to serve as a therapy dog in his future. He is now my present, and one day will be God’s gift to many. He is no longer just surviving and nor are we. We live for Christ, to bring others to his throne for the forgiveness.

We are to be “tender hearted: which is opposed to a being hard-hearted to them that are in distress, and close at hand to the needy…and this should be done in like manner as God forgives in Christ, and for his sake; that is, fully and freely, and from their hearts…saints should give freely to one another, for outward support, where it is needful; and should impart spiritual gifts and experience for inward comfort, where it is wanted, and as they have the ability…[since] all they have…is freely given by God in Christ, and for his sake; with whom he freely gives them all things; in whom he has given them grace, and blessed them with all spiritual blessings; as peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life.” (5)

When you hear news reports of protests, BLM activities, and other social concerns, how do you judge those involved? Do you consult God? Listen to biblical commentary? Or just follow those who are the most vocal? Are you as merciful as you can be to those in your home and close-by? Are there widows in your neighborhood or church body who could use a call or help with a task? Millions of children all over the world are without parents; are you doing anything for them? (6) “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) There are also many ways to contribute to the needs of the financially limited during social isolation. (7) Of course, the first step is to check our hearts for the desire to extend kindness to as many as possible, knowing that God will empower and lead us in our selections since our time and finances are limited. “‘Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:16-18)

(1) “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible,” Introduction to Zechariah, eBook, Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Zechariah 7:1-8:23, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Ibid.

(4) “My Utmost For His Highest Devotion,” 6/23/20 (https://utmost.org)

(5) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ephesians 4:32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-4.html

(6) Among other organizations, The Rafiki Foundation provides Bible studies, Christian Classical education, and practical support for widows and orphans, rafikifoundation.org

(7) To find groups or charities that are helping the poor: https://mswonlineprograms.org/poverty-hunger/

June 26, 2020

Embracing Exalted Kindness

How do you feel about the Supreme Court’s DACA decision? Does its kindness to dreamers outweigh its temporary nature and congressional failure to legislate on immigration? (1) Do you consider yourself a kind person? If so, why, or if not, why not? What are the characteristics of a kind person? When I started studying kindness, the fifth fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, my view of it was so much less than what it should have been. How many others equate kindness with politeness, civility, or simply being nice? But Biblical kindness is much more than that! “Goodness is the very opposite of harshness, cruelty, gruffness, severity, mercilessness–all of which are far removed from God…The goodness of God, on the contrary, is the loveliness, benign character, sweetness, friendliness, kindness, and generosity of God. Goodness is the very essence of God’s being, even if there were no creature to whom this could be manifested.” (2) “When Paul laid out his case to the church in Corinth that he was a true apostle, he did so by detailing the trials he endured for the sake of the gospel, the inner spiritual life God granted him despite this suffering, and the God-produced spiritual fruit in his life (2 Corinthians 6:1-13). Surprisingly, kindness made his list of spiritual fruit. ‘You want proof I’m an apostle?’ he said, in effect. ‘Okay, here it is: I’m kind’… Kindness is no small thing. It yields marvelous fruit both in our lives and the lives of those around us. ‘Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor’ (Proverbs 21:21). We open ourselves to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit when we ask him to produce in us kind hearts that overflow through kind lips.” (3)

This week, God has used 2 Corinthians 6:3-8 to radically change my thinking. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-8a) The Holy Spirit provides our Christian kindness along with our purity, knowledge, patience, and sincere love for others. May we elevate our view of kindness to be more proactive and intentional with everyone in all circumstances, following Paul’s example.

Paul and his brothers didn’t seem concerned about their reputations but were entirely devoted to the honor of Christ’s gospel ministry. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…” (v. 3) Implied in the statement is the reality that people will try to find fault with Christianity. “The apostle knew there were persons who were waiting all opportunities, and taking all advantages to vilify and reproach the ministry of the Gospel, and so hinder its progress and spread.” (4) So we find this principle at work: Since God called them to the preaching of the gospel, the Spirit would prepare and empower them to respond to others with gospel kindness rather than hinder their ministry of reconciliation. For those of us not in full-time ministry, it might look different, but the principle is the same. For example, I took a big risk today and visited a hairdresser for the first time in three months. (Only during a pandemic would that sentence make sense.) I had biblical kindness on my mind, but I was with a new salon owner, just getting to know her. The Spirit took over when I shared a little about myself, and she opened up about a concern of her own. That exchange happened right after I assured her that it took no great feat of courage or personal strength to serve in Africa as a missionary, but reliance on God who called me there. Kindness to others flows from our love for Christ, our trust in God’s plans, and yielding to the Spirit’s supernatural work in our sanctification. My sweet interaction with my new hairdresser was more of a blessing than my refreshed hairstyle. Of course, enduring three months without providential connections like this, a haircut, meal with friends, or regular meetings has been trivial compared to the trials that Paul experienced. So shouldn’t it be even easier for us to endure and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit? We, like Paul, are called to “commend ourselves in every way” as God’s servants. For the apostles that meant “great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, [and] hunger…” (vs. 4-5) “It is not sufficient for a minister of the Gospel to avoid everything that might bring any blot or scandal on his ministry; but he should in all things, and by all ways and means, proper, lawful, and laudable, approve, prove, and show himself to be a true and faithful dispenser of the word.” (5) We share the gospel with the words of Christ for redemption in him; we model the gospel with our lives, character, and actions.

God might use a broken down car, financial shortages, injury, or even a rude puppy to help us grow in kindness. As I train my future therapy dog, my desire to be kind to them flows from this purpose—to comfort others (rather than annoy them with his barking). The Spirit is working in me to be careful to avoid situations that might set him off, even if it means ten more minutes of walking in 95-degree heat when I just want to get into my air-conditioned building. We endure our challenges and afflictions the same way Paul did, “…by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love…” (v. 6) “Purity rightly heads the list. It is a comprehensive word encompassing purity of life, thought, and motive…The apostle’s knowledge of divine truth was unsurpassed, and he never wavered from a true understanding of sinful men, the strategies of Satan, false religious systems, God’s redeeming love, and the principles of effective teaching, evangelism, and discipling…A clear understanding of the truth that was never altered was the foundation of his endurance…Paul also modeled the essential virtue of kindness, which describes goodness in action. No matter how people treated him, Paul responded by doing useful deeds for them. He expressed his credo when he exhorted the Galatians, ‘Let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith’ (Gal. 6:10). It is the Holy Spirit who empowers endurance. Paul walked in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), was filled with the Spirit (Acts 13:9), accessed the Father through the Spirit (Eph. 2:18), was called to (Acts 13:2) and gifted for ministry by Him (1 Cor. 12:7, 11), ministered in His power (Rom. 15:19), followed His leading (Acts 16:6-7), was taught by Him (1 Cor. 2:13), prayed in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18), and worshiped in the Spirit (Phil. 3:3). He did not grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), or quench Him (1 Thess. 5:19). The Spirit also produced in him the genuine love, which He has ‘poured out within our hearts’ (Rom. 5:5; cf. Gal. 5:22).” (6) 

The Holy Spirit provides our Christian kindness along with our purity, knowledge, patience, and sincere love for others in all circumstances. We must elevate our view of kindness to be more proactive and intentional with everyone in all conditions. We can because we have the full armor of God as described in Ephesians 6:10-20. John Gill writes that when Paul mentioned “the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left…” (v. 7), his “meaning, [was] either the whole armor of God, with which a Christian is all over clothed from head to foot, and in the strength of Christ may engage any adversary without fear; or else particularly the sword of the Spirit in the right hand, and the shield of faith in the left, whereby both the offensive and defensive part may be acted; or, as others think, uprightness of conscience, and holiness of life and conversation.” (7) No matter which of these are the primary application, God provides them all through the Holy Spirit. Knowing this should motivate us to be more proactively and intentional kind in all circumstances.

Does it surprise you that Scripture places kindness on the same level as purity, knowledge, patience, and genuine love? Will you pray for more appreciation of this spiritual fruit? “Rich were the blessings of this day if all of us were filled with the Holy Ghost. The consequences of this sacred filling of the soul it would be impossible to overestimate. Life, comfort, light, purity, power, peace; and many other precious blessings are inseparable from the Spirit’s benign presence. As sacred oil, he anoints the head of the believer, sets him apart to the priesthood of saints, and gives him grace to execute his office aright. As the only truly purifying water he cleanses us from the power of sin and sanctifies us unto holiness, working in us to will and to do of the Lord’s good pleasure.” (8) As you look back on the last 48 hours of your life, how might you have omitted kindness that could have been an obstacle to Christ’s love for someone? Did you do something unkind, that may have been an obstacle to God’s love? You may have endured some hardships and afflictions over the last few months, not on the scale that Paul did, but difficult nevertheless. How might God be using those hardships in your sanctification, specifically to help you to be more kind? “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10)

(1) For Christian commentary on the DACA decision see “Albert Mohler, “Part 1-Supreme Court Decides the DACA Case, https://albertmohler.com

(2)Wilhelmus a’ Brakel on the Goodness of God,” Calvin and Calvinism, 2008, https://calvinandcalvinism.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/wlhelmus-a-brakel-on-the-goodness-of-god/

(3) Witmore, Stephen, “Kindness Changes Everything,” 9/4/2016, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/kindness-changes-everything.)

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Corinthians 6:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2corinthians-6.html

(5) Gill, Ibid, 2 Corinthians 6:4.

(6) MacArthur, John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, “Honor and Dishonor—the Paradox of Ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:1-10), Moody Publishers, 2003.

(7) Gill, Ibid, 2 Corinthians 6:6.

(8) Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, https://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/morning-and-evening/today

June 18, 2020

The Kindness of a Godly Rebuke

Have you been following the Black Lives Matter protests, speeches, and programs? If you are a person of color, I imagine you have been checking out tweets, posts, articles, and TV programs. On two evenings this week, I watched an online interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1) Since I am not a person of color, I think it’s especially important to listen to those whose race often results in exclusion, oppression, or abuse. I’ve always been attracted to people of different races and color, and almost started a career based on the need for justice for minorities when I was in my twenties, but God had other plans for my life. I enjoyed working in Africa for almost two decades. Add to this my background in peaceful, civil disobedience in my 20s, and you can imagine that I am truly heartbroken for the racial dissonance in America. As a white person with all the privileges of my skin color, I confess to the tendency to think I actually know something about the situation; but I do not. So I am thankful for God’s kindness to humble me and help me receive his implied rebuke for my prideful self-righteousness in this week’s passage. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (Psalm 141:3-5) Let’s consider how the Spirit guards our mouths, disinclines us to evil, and kindly blesses us with rebukes. If we embrace God’s wisdom, and his preventive and corrective kindness, we will be kinder to others.

About Psalm 141, James Boice writes, “Psalm 141 is a psalm in which every word and sentence is a prayer.” (2) In verses 3-5, David makes four requests for God’s restraint: over his lips, his heart, the temptation to join with others in sinful conduct, and his rejection of a well-intentioned, kind rebuke. David needed help to keep from sinning with his lips, an irreverent heart leading to wicked behavior, and denial of godly correction, as we all do. David’s prayer reminds me of Psalm 1:1-2 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” In Psalm 141, David prays, “Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.” (v. 10) In Psalm 1, the blessed man walking with the Lord, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (v. 3) David clearly wants to be the blessed man described in Psalm 1:3, which is why he needs to hear God’s corrective rebukes and those from others. “[Charles] Spurgeon…said, ‘When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God—the evil is rather practical than habitual—but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed.’” (3) But, when the Spirit guards our mouths, disinclines us to evil, and kindly blesses us with rebuffs, we become kinder, gentler, fruit-bearing Christians.

“The first thing David asks God to guard is his mouth so he will not speak sinfully or in a way that might harm others. There is no biblical writer that seems so conscious of the harm that words can do as David.” (4) “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” “Good men know the evil of tongue sins. When enemies are provoking, we are in danger of speaking unadvisedly. While we live in an evil world, and have such evil hearts, we have need to pray that we may neither be drawn nor driven to do any thing sinful.” (5) Much of the controversy over Black Lives Matter today has to do with words, so I try to pay careful attention when I am listening to speeches and reading tweets. Words matter, mine and yours matter. I could quickly write something that would either offend you or encourage you, but because I don’t know you, I’ll let the Lord speak; his words matter more.

It’s not enough, though, to control our speech, since our hearts are the source of our words. David knew that his heart would lead him into evil comradeship with ungodly men, resulting in his occupation with wicked deeds, as if they are tasty “delicacies.” (v. 4) “David makes his request for pure actions from the negative side, asking God to keep him from being ‘drawn to what is evil’ or taking ‘part in wicked deeds.’ This is what we pray for when we say the Lord’s Prayer, asking, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ (Matt. 6:13).” (6) We need a constant reminder of the gospel’s work in us, to help us appreciate and embrace God’s transforming us into new creatures who no longer react as hopeless victims of the world. Sometimes we put on “masks” of competency, success, spiritual strength, and intelligence to hide our vulnerability. But David never tries to hide his needs or act stoically. I wondered how much I mask my insecurities and weaknesses with a show of competence or organization. My new rescue puppy puts on a “mask” of aggression when he is afraid, looking like he wants to attack the other dogs before they attack him because he doesn’t know what else to do (according to a professional trainer for aggressive dogs). But we do know what to do—we are to humble ourselves and honestly admit to not knowing our hearts, not being different from anyone else. “…David is not too good for evil people; he is too much like them and therefore likely to be swept away by their wickedness if in their company. David swept away by evil company? If that was a danger for David, how much more so for you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying, ‘Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil’ and ‘Lead me not into temptation?’” (7)

One highly recommended way to avoid the dangers of sin is to pray The Lord’s Prayer daily. David uses another approach in v. 5, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” “We should be ready to welcome the rebuke of our heavenly Father, and also the reproof of our brethren. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart: we must show that we take it kindly…When the world is bitter, the word is sweet.” (8) David’s warning to receive rebukes sounds like Proverbs 27:6, which says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” As the Spirit guards our mouths and disinclines us to evil, he also kindly blesses us with correction. But thinking of criticisms as kindness is a shocking idea to our natural minds. Yet many of God’s rebukes are implied and subtle, not direct and sharp. The work of the gospel is to conform us to the kindness of Christ, for others’ sakes, and his glory,

Do you seek out those news reports, posts, tweets, and articles that conform to your present opinions, or do you look for new ideas that might transform your mind, perhaps even offer a kindly rebuke? Looking back, what would you consider the most significant and kindest transformation of your heart since Christ redeemed you? Is it the decreased desire for a specific idol or sin, a new interest in Scripture, being more other-centered, being less self-righteous or prideful, or another significant change? For a more Christ-like character in the future, what worldly or sinful conduct is most alluring to you? Will you pray for God’s help to resist the temptation to indulge yourself in it? Today, are you willing to accept God’s spiritual or practical rebukes? “…reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:8a-9) Will you humble yourself to hear subtle or implied rebukes from others? The spiritual fruit of kindness does not grow in our blessings, but in our trials and challenges. Will you pray with the psalmist, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways?” (Psalm 119:37)

(1) Part 1 of Oprah’s interview can be found on this page, if you scroll down to the YouTube Link: https://www.popsugar.com/celebrity/ava-duvernay-black-lives-matter-discussion-with-oprah-video-47540396?stream_view=1#photo-47540405

(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 141, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(3) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 1:1-3.

(4) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.

(5) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 141:1-4, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/psalms/141.html

(6) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.

(7) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.

(8) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 141:5-10, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/psalms/141.html 

June 12, 2020

The Kindness of Christ In Our Turbulent World

I know that God, because of his goodness and loving kindness toward me, my elderly neighbors, and shut-ins, brought a (future therapy) rescue dog to me after nine months of prayer. Adopting a shelter dog with a short past reminds me that Christ rescued me when I was an undisciplined thirty-three year old. If I neglect Christ’s special grace of the gospel and not show the same loving kindness to others, through the Spirit’s fruit, I will not live out the faith I profess. “Christ’s divinity is not an abstract truth, however glorious, but a transformative witness that impels followers to good works…False followers identify themselves in part by lack of such actions. Paul’s many ethical promptings [in Titus] are therefore calls for believers to show in real life the gospel they profess. For Paul, saving faith is shown not least in its actions.” (1) Let’s take a closer look at one Titus passage. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7) We are God’s heirs, with his righteousness, because of Christ’s goodness and loving kindness when he appeared in history and to us in our regeneration. Our Christian compassion exceeds worldly benevolence because of our salvation and renewal in the Spirit. We have the hope of eternal life, and hope in this season where many to lose their jobs, businesses, health, lives, and possibly homes. The fast spreading illness and events of the last few months should shock us all into a great appreciation of and conviction from God’s kindness to us.

In Titus 3:4-7, Paul ties together God’s goodness, kindness, mercy, grace, and hope. “And we are delivered out of our miserable condition, only by the mercy and free grace of God, the merit and sufferings of Christ, and the working of his Spirit. God the Father is God our Savior. He is the fountain from which the Holy Spirit flows, to teach, regenerate, and save his fallen creatures; and this blessing comes to mankind through Christ. The spring and rise of it, is the kindness and love of God to man.” (2) According to our Titus passage, the triune God is our merciful, cleansing, regenerating, renewing, justifying, gracious Savior and Spirit, generously giving us eternal life. Concentrating on God’s attributes helps us to keep his person, work, and desires in mind as we move through the day. But, why do we need this continually, every day? “There is a battle royal between the brain and the heart. The brain makes one assumption and the heart completely disavows it. The brain revels in every modern advancement while the heart says, ‘that won’t satisfy.’ The brain cries out for improvement while the heart cries out for everlastingness. The heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the brain. The heart was made for everlastingness while the brain is suffocating under the cloud of depravity.” (3) So is the state of humans, but not God whose being is whole and unconflicted. We will begin the study of kindness, our spiritual fruit, by focusing on God’s kindness to us, especially in Jesus Christ, who appeared for our salvation. It’s God’s fruit that we want to develop and demonstrate; he is the beginning and foundation of our faith and fruit.

We have many emotional issues in our society today that call for godly kindnesses, expressing themselves in different ways. I particularly appreciate these thoughts about recent protests from Vanessa Hawkins.

“Following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I did what I have learned to do way too well – I compartmentalized. I conveniently tucked feelings away so that I could accomplish the task before me and complete the work day. When I finally made it home, I watched the video that was cycling through the news, and I was undone. I couldn’t sleep. I poured out an assortment of complex feelings before the Lord and just wept. Every time I thought about it, I wept. I realized that day that lament is costly and disruptive. It disrupted my plans and made space for emotions I didn’t care to feel. It ultimately pushed me to the throne of the only Help I know. That Help is our only hope; His name is Jesus. While I am often tempted to look away from the evil and injustice in our world, Jesus never did. He looked. He saw. ‘When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). Jesus didn’t look away from injustice. He looked. He saw. This is uncomfortable for us because having compassion is costly. It won’t allow our response of ‘that’s so sad’ to be the end of the conversation. Compassion demands that we do something. In various places in Scripture Jesus is ‘moved with compassion.’ Compassion means acting on the grief our heart feels and setting things right where we can. It’s bringing what access and influence we have to bear on the circumstances of the harassed and the helpless.” (4)

I mourn the deaths of our citizens every morning when I check at the new coronavirus death count, which is increasing daily. I am overwhelmed by the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, police officers, and others caught up in the protests. For now, I’ll follow Hawkins’s example of lamenting as a way to remember the goodness and lovingkindness of Christ. After all, we are “justified by his grace [that] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7) We should consider this truth in light of Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” God’s children will suffer, and we are to suffer with them. Is this not the best goodness, to have the same godly compassion that Christ manifested when he appeared and saved us by his mercy and regeneration? So the question I’m asking myself today is, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Christ’s kindness brings me to repent of distancing myself emotionally from America’s destructive racial conflicts. For what do you repent?

(1) “NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, Introduction to Titus,” Zondervan, Kindle Edition, 2018.

(2) Henry, Matthew Henry, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible,” Titus 3:7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/titus-3.html

(3) Tozer, A.W., “And He Dwelt Among Us,” Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2009

(4) Hawkins, Vanessa, “On Oneness, Lament, And Seeing With Compassion,” https://encourage.pcacdm.org/2020/06/04/post-template-213-36/

 

June 5, 2020

Resting From Running

This week I can’t stop thinking about those who have pushed their way through the first stage of the pandemic. Working in a new environment, with insufficient tools or supplies, new methods of communication, and dire, life-threatening needs is exhausting. About eight years ago, I was in danger of burning out in my work. I felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities, insecure in my position, and discouraged about one project that wasn’t going as planned; I was also physically weary. I knew I was on the verge of “burn out” because my solution to my fatigue was doing more, not less, thinking that the work would never be complete unless I did it myself. Have you been there? Are you there now? Weary from your work, whether it’s at home on a computer and phone, with the children, at a hospital, or an office? “Consider the drivers, IT experts, teachers, nurses, pastors, and counselors who work harder than ever before: you need to rest, especially if you are the type—like many pastors—who acts as if rest were for other people. No doubt, the people who depend on you are glad you toiled ceaselessly through the opening phase of the pandemic. Churches and their leaders had never faced this challenge before…After weeks of unstinting toil, it’s time to re-establish healthy, God-given patterns, including a day of rest.” (1)

In 2012, after I cried out to the Lord, he intervened. I worked at the home office in Florida for ten months, in a very satisfying job with limited hours, having my medical needs met, with time to travel in the U.S. and plenty of time alone with Jesus. He strengthened me for another five years on the field. Like others who have rested, I continued to bear fruit patiently with joy and thanksgiving, strengthened by His power. “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:9-12) “Remember, the Christian calendar is like no other…We start each week with rest and worship. Reclining in the finished work of Christ is the starting point for each week. It’s an idea we need to recapture today.” (2)

Paul and Timothy prayed for their brothers and sisters to “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” “[They] did not pray that they might have a ‘knowledge’ of this will of God, for some knowledge of it they had already…and therefore what he asks for is, that they might be ‘filled’ with the knowledge…a larger measure of it, and such a fulness of it as they were capable of…that they might have a ‘spiritual understanding’ of the mysteries of grace…by ‘the prudence of the Holy Ghost’ who searches the deep things of God, and reveals them to the saints, and improves and increases their spiritual and experimental knowledge.” (3) It’s hard to yield to deep, biblical convictions when we are rushing to fix a problem. Perhaps what you need now is the endurance and patience that results from the spiritual wisdom, understanding, and power that the Lord will provide in rest. Have you been one of the essential workers? You are among the people I am especially thankful for and the ones for whom I have the most concern. Obviously, you want to bear fruit. According to Colossians, though, you will produce more fruit more patiently with joy and thanksgiving, through greater knowledge of God, strengthened by His power.

The example of Christians who will successfully navigate through the crisis will be models for living “in a way that pleases God” (Colossians 1:10a). Paul explains what he means by living in a way that pleases God—“bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (v. 10b) Our increasing knowledge of God informs our work, commitments, and, therefore, our schedules. “Saints are trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord; good works are the fruit, which, under the influence of divine grace, they bring forth…being ingrafted into Christ the true vine, and deriving life, sap, and nourishment from him, they are filled with the fruits of righteousness by him, which they bring forth and bear, to the glory of his heavenly Father; and being such, they are pleasant plants to him, as fruit-bearing trees are to the owner of them…” (4) When we consider the profound nature of biblical fruit-bearing we tend to reduce it to the bare minimum. Otherwise, we must stop in our tracks and cry out to God, which is precisely what we should be doing. “A yes is not simply a yes. Saying yes to time with the guys means saying no to that one-on-one time he and his little girl have been enjoying after dance class. It means saying no to some of his son’s games. In many cases, when important things fall off our plate, we don’t even notice. Sadly, those are often the people we love most! Saying yes to heading into the office an hour earlier every morning to get more work done can become a no to that exercise routine you have been trying to develop. Yes to taking a night class to further your education could be a no to a full night of sleep. None of these yeses are bad, but all have consequences.” (5) Is one consequence of your work an inability or hindrance to grow in your knowledge of God; is it time to stop and rest? Have you prayed for a way to get alone for spiritual refreshment if you’re a parent who has been at home with your children? The hardest part is stopping your busyness, and you may need help from others.

Which of us doesn’t want to be “strengthened with power, according to God’s might? (v. 11) The resurrection power of Christ is ours through the Holy Spirit through Christ’s great sacrifice. And yet, because of our human nature, we settle for our inferior human power. “Power belongs to God, is a perfection of his nature, and has been, and is gloriously displayed in many things; as in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the upholding of all things in their being; in the redemption and salvation of sinners; in their faith and conversion; in supporting the saints under various trials and exercises; and in the safe keeping them through faith unto salvation: from this glorious power of God saints may hope to be supplied with all might, or a sufficient supply of strength for every service, and for every difficulty.” (6) “The purpose…of this God-given power is to provide the divine strength needed for the believer to attain Christian virtues, to persevere in the faith, to resist temptation and deceitful teachers, and so to know the joy of the Lord [‘for all endurance and patience with joy’].” (7) Whether we like the idea or not, we need to endure through the entire pandemic, not just for a few months. We can bear fruit patiently with joy and thanksgiving, through our knowledge of God, strengthened by His power.

What will happen if you stop to rest, right now? Most of us know from experience that resting results in “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:12) When we take a break, catch our breath, and remember what Christ has done for us, “justifying [us] by the righteousness of his Son, and so making [us] heirs according to the hope of eternal life, and forgiving all [our] trespasses for Christ’s sake; cleansing [us] from all in his blood, so that being the undefiled in the way, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, [we] are fit for the undefiled inheritance; regenerating [us] by his Spirit, and implanting principles of light and life, grace and holiness, in [us]…we] have abundant reason to give thanks to the Father.” (8) You who have been redeemed by Christ, are kept by his Spirit and have endured through the first stage of the pandemic, is it not time to rest before confronting the second? Has your patience worn thin because of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual exhaustion? Won’t you retreat with God to be filled with all spiritual wisdom, understanding, and power? Do you trust the Lord to work in you to bear fruit with joy again? “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

(1) Dan Doriani, “Now’s the Time For Rest,” May 25, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/nows-time-rest

(2) Doriani, Ibid.

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Colossians 1:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/colossians-1.html

(4) Gill, Ibid.

(5) Harney, Kevin G., “No Is a Beautiful Word,” Chapter 2, Zondervan, 2019, Kindle Edition.

(6) Gill, Ibid (Colossians 1:11).

(7) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Colossians 1:11, Crossway, 2008.

(8) Gill, Ibid (Colossians 1:12)

May 29, 2020

Patience Leads to the Best End

Do you have a social “re-entry plan?”  Do you have criteria you are using to determine when to eat at a restaurant, go on a trip, or join your congregation at church for Sunday worship? The upside of planning is its objectivity if we make our plans based on facts and data. In an article in the NY Times, Brad Stulberg compared enduring the coronavirus event to running a marathon versus a sprint. But “…unlike marathon runners and other endurance athletes, we did not sign up to participate in this prolonged and grueling event. Yet there is still much we can learn from long-distance runners, cyclists, and triathletes about how to move through these extended periods of discomfort…The first rule of running a long-distance race is to acknowledge that the race will in fact be long—and hard. If you envision a race that is over quickly and without pain, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary frustration…’If expectations are unrealistically high, they could be the basis of disappointment and low satisfaction.’” (1) Maybe you’re a pastor or minister who has had to adapt to an absent or reduced congregation to preach to—that can’t be easy. Or, you may be one of the many individuals or family grieving for someone who unexpectantly died from COVID-19 and also has to plan all the details involved in sudden death. When are you planning to return to church worship? Your office? Or visit your family? Do you have the patience you will need to carry out your plans?

I haven’t decided when I’ll return to worship at our church or attend in-person meetings; time with my church family is my most significant want right now. I had no pandemic plan, and was entirely reactive, as most of us were. But shouldn’t it be easier to be patient when we know we’re moving under God’s sovereign plan, like a pandemic? I thought I would be socially distancing at home for about a month, which has stretched to at least three or four. So I’ve had to make a plan and ask the Lord for patience. It’s always best to trust God with hopeful and eager patience for the right end of things. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we will stand firm with patience, knowing that our hope in God will be vindicated, no matter what others think. We agree with the author of Ecclesiastes, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” (7:8)

Ecclesiastes 7:8 is my go-to verse when I am in a tough situation beyond my control, because God is good, all the time. John Gill writes, “…patience is a fruit of the Spirit of God; and is of great use in the Christian’s life, and especially in bearing afflictions, and tends to make men more humble, meek, and quiet…” (2) Godly patience is not just surviving a crisis or enduring, looking for it to end. Unfortunately, however, that’s what I usually do as I begin to consider this verse. Then wisdom kicks in; God uses our trials to strengthen and improve our character if we will only be patient to yield, to be more humble, meek, and quiet. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) What’s “better” than applying the tests of our faith to our sanctification? “It is folly to cry out upon the badness of our times, when we have more reason to cry out for the badness of our own hearts; and even in these times we enjoy many mercies.” (3)

Trusting God with hopeful patience and humility for the right end of things as he tests our faith is not easy or natural for us. We groan and impatiently pray for the end right now. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:23-24a) “…the groaning of Christians is…expectant grief, that is, grief that looks forward to a time when all that is causing pain will be removed and salvation will be consummated. Christian groaning is a joyful grief that gives birth to a sure hope and patient endurance…In the passage of Romans 8 [:22-27], we find a word that is repeated three times and yet is found nowhere else in this letter…It is the Greek word…translated “groan…” the usage we understand best is our own groaning, since we groan in our bodily weakness and fleshly sins. But groaning is not the only thing Paul says we do. He also says that ‘we hope’ and ‘we wait,’ adding in the latter case that we do it both ‘eagerly’ and ‘patiently.’” (4) We who long for and place our hope in the resurrection of our bodies at Christ’s second coming must groan and pray for others to share in Christ’s riches. I long and sometimes groan for my family members and neighbors, community employers, employees, and volunteers to have “…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:4-5) With patience, we can plan to use our prolonged distancing for extended prayer for ourselves, our Christian family, and unbelievers. What is your plan, as you “wait” for the end of the matter?

Matthew Henry warns us about our tendency to look to the past for our best life. “It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times; as if former ages had not the like things to complain of that we have: this arises from discontent, and aptness to quarrel with God himself.” (5) And Paul, continuing in Romans 8, encourages us in our Christian hope for what God is going to do in the future. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24b-25) “The word hope has two senses: (1) an attitude of hopefulness, and (2) the content of that for which we hope…The specific content is the return of Jesus Christ together with…the resurrection of the body, the adoption of God’s children, and the gathering of God’s harvest. These things are all promised to us by God. Hence, the Christian hopes in confidence, a confidence grounded not in the strength of one’s emotional outlook but on the sure Word of God, who cannot lie. If God says that these things are coming, it is reasonable and safe for us to hope confidently in them.” (6)

Our hope is in Christ now and in his return for the new heavens and new earth, our eternal home with him. But waiting is not something we tend to do in a broad sense. This waiting is not looking for Grubhub to deliver food or the night when your favorite TV series starts a new season. “‘We wait eagerly…patiently.’ It is important to take the two adverbs together, because biblical ‘patience’ is not passivity. This is an active, though patient waiting. It expresses itself in vigorous service for Christ even while we wait for his appearing.” (7) “We with patience wait for it; as that which is certain and real, as something valuable, which will be satisfying, and be received with the utmost joy, [with] a valuable esteem and affection for it… [and] sit loose by the things of this world, and are ready to part with the one, and grasp the other…under afflictions from the hand of God, under the reproaches and persecutions of men, under desertions and want of answers in prayer, under the temptations of Satan, and in the expectation of the heavenly glory.” (8) We have lessons from marathon runners, but we have much better truths, too. So we trust God with hopeful and eager patience for the right end of things. But we put the Spirit’s gift, our heavenly patience to work for the sake of his glory. “If you will seek God and plead with the Almighty for mercy if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore your rightful habitation. And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.” (Job 8:5-7)

(1) Stulberg, Brad, “What We Can Learn From Endurance Athletes About Getting Through This Pandemic,” New York Times, 5/21/20 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/well/mind/coronavirus-athletes-marathons-triathlons-sports-cycling.html

(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ecclesiastes 7:8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ecclesiastes-7.html

(3) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Ecclesiastes 7:7-10,https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/ecclesiastes-7.html

(4) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 8:22-25, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(5) Henry, Ibid.

(6) Boice, Ibid.

(7) Boice, Ibid.

(8) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 8:25, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-8.html

May 22, 2020

Patience to Bear Fruit

I have an easy life, with few risks, in a middle-class American community, with adequate funds to live well in my retirement, and excellent medical care. However, I previously lived in the inner city of Baltimore and then in sub-Sahara Africa, where poverty is the norm. Although God has always provided abundantly for me, living in impoverished communities taught me that no one is immune from the effects of disease, poverty, and intense need. I attended funerals in Africa, grieving with those who had lost people, provided jobs when I could, helped those I could help—all of which affected my life. So I understand the importance of a recent statement from the United Nations. “The COVID-19 outbreak affects all segments of the population and is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups in the most vulnerable situations, continues to affect populations, including people living in poverty situations, older persons, persons with disabilities, youth, and indigenous peoples…If not properly addressed through policy the social crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic may also increase inequality, exclusion, discrimination and global unemployment in the medium and long term.” (1) When my friends and I think of waiting for a haircut, for a store to open, or information about school, camp or graduation plans, I remember the big needs of people who are waiting to go back to work, for a much-needed stimulus check, or results of their COVID-19 test. Patience to wait for a haircut cannot be compared to the perseverance that is required for sustaining life, but sometimes we have both superficial and deep soul needs. Fortunately for us, we have the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, both far more powerful than the CDC or any medication. Christians need and have God-given patience. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) The Holy Spirit gives us the desire and power to bear fruit in all circumstances with patience.

Living in Kenya, I knew what it is to wait for the rains to supply drinking, bathing, and garden water. I moved there in 2000 when the country was entering a three-year season of a severe drought. I purchased dirty river water from a truck for storage in a large tank; the sediment settled enough for me to filter it for use in laundry and bathing, and I filtered it further to be potable. But I had it easy; others spent entire days walking to the river for a few gallons of water to boil. Bucket baths were standard for us all. Today, in addition to this, some don’t know how they’re going to buy food, pay their rent or mortgage, see a doctor, pay for a bus trip, or buy gas for the car, and must persevere. Luke wrote about perseverance in the face of persecution, which may have led to similar trials of unemployment and sickness. But persecution for one’s beliefs adds the element of social harassment to personal deprivation. These trials are the reason we need patience in this life, and the reason the Spirit gives it to us. Patience is the fourth fruit that we are considering from Galatians 5:22-23; it is the opposite of “strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [and] envy…” (Galatians 5:20-21) The Holy Spirit gives us patience to be persevering, fruit-bearing Christians. So, as we greet each day, our tolerance increases as we endure, to bear fruit for the Lord. We need it for spiritual difficulties as well as life-threatening troubles, rather than only for superficial desires (like haircuts and restaurant or movie experiences). I am not attempting to compare one set of difficulties to the other as if to diminish our challenges, but to point out that our impatience for shallow wishes is often indicative of our spiritual impatience and discontent.

“Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.” (2) Matthew’s and Mark’s gospel do not include Luke’s attention to “bearing fruit with patience” in Jesus’s teaching on the parable of the sower. However, they mention the high degree of the fruitfulness of the ones made righteous by Christ—they bear “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20) Either we are good soil, or we’re not; either we’ve been redeemed or not. Either we want to bear fruit for God’s kingdom or want to live for ourselves. Personally, the longer the pandemic goes on, the greater my temptation to give up the struggle between these desires, to just wait for it to be over and to resume my ministry responsibilities. I must ask myself if I have a deeper spiritual issue. Am I, in some way, not fighting the spiritual battle necessary to bear all the fruit I can, and am just waiting for the inevitable time of departure from the world through death (or the return of Christ)? James rebukes me. “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11) In his lecture on “The Patience of Job,” Dr. Derek Thomas makes the point that while Job seems to lose patience with God, wanting to argue with him, he never becomes an atheist. Even in his darkest moments, he takes his complaints to the Lord. His steadfastness is “broader than patience, like stick-to-it-ness,” staying the course of his faith. Job “expresses his firm belief that God is sovereign, in control of everything by his providence which he has orderedNothing happens outside of his decree, not his finances, health, or family. And Job’s steadfastness results in his understanding about God in the end, despite not knowing anything about Satan and spiritual warfare,” as we do from Revelation and New Testament epistles. (3) Dr. Thomas proposes that a vital lesson from Job’s steadfastness, and the reason for James’s citing it, is to not just survive in a trial of his magnitude but also flourish. The Holy Spirit gives us the fruit of patience to be persevering, fruit-bearing Christians.

Commenting on Luke 8:15, John Gill writes, “[The Christian] abides by [God’s Word], stands fast in it, and is valiant for it: and this he does in and with ‘an honest and good heart’; which no man naturally has; nor can any man make his heart so: this is the work of God, and is owing to his efficacious grace. This is an heart of flesh, a new and right heart, and spirit; an heart to fear God, to love him, and to trust in him; in which Christ dwells by faith; in which the Spirit of God has his temple; and in which every grace is implanted…so he holds fast the word he hears, understands and receives, with all faithfulness and honesty: the fruit bore, and brought forth by such an hearer, is the true fruit of grace and righteousness, and is all from Christ, under the influences of the Spirit…and is brought forth, as Luke says, ‘with patience’: constantly, and continually, in all seasons, in old age, and even unto death; and is at last brought ‘to perfection’, holds, and remains unto the end.” (4)

 

For what significant spiritual distress are you in need of godly perseverance? How might your superficial desires reflect your need for biblical patience and fruit? What fruit might you bear for the Lord, through steadfastness, as the pandemic continues? “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36) Dr. Thomas cites a hymn to remind us of Job’s steadfast trust in God, that we might do the same as we continue to learn to bear fruit with patience. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm…Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face. His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.” (5)

(1) United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19,” https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/everyone-included-covid-19.html

(2) Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, page 546, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993.

(3) Thomas, Derek, “The Patience of Job,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/the-book-of-job/the-patience-of-job/

(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Luke 8:15, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-8.html

(5) Cowper, William, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way,”

May 15, 2020

The Fruit of Peace For Those Who Love God’s Law

Do you drive? People with cars have a worldview that is dramatically different from those without cars. With a working vehicle, you might go anywhere at any time, as long as you have gas and insurance, which most people do. When your car breaks down, you are brought to a screeching halt and feel that you’ve lost your freedom. But, those without cars are dependent upon others, public transportation, or their own feet, who travel on subways, trains, busses, taxies, or planes, and safely moving around is all-consuming. Our church session opened physical worship in our building last Sunday but asked all of us over 65 years of age to stay home. As you can imagine, there were various responses to this from “Okay, good to know what to do, to “Why shouldn’t I go, since I’m healthy?” Some of us embrace commands or directives from a source that we trust, and others just don’t like to be told what to do. However, as we mature spiritually with Christ, we can seem these as times when God “hems us in” for his purposes and glory, according to Psalm 139:5. When we obey God out of duty or lack of control, we don’t love him or his ways. A child who obeys to avoid punishment is doing so out of fear, not love. But when Christians love God, we love everything about him and from him, including his rules, restrictions, and laws; we obey with peace, knowing that he has planned for our best life.

In Michael Horton’s “Introducing Covenant Theology,” I can’t let go of one sentence in his summary on the covenant of law versus the covenant of grace. “While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life.” (1) Note that Horton is speaking of “God’s redeemed people,” that is, believers. Christians uphold the moral law as a way ‘of’ life, according to the Mosaic covenant (vs. a way ‘to’ life, through the gospel). Think about the implications of this: believers obey, follow, and even love God’s moral law, as a gift from God. I rejoice in the Lord’s sovereign control over my freedom, to keep me safe at home as much as possible right now, because I love his rulership, appointment of my governmental leaders, and work through my church elders. How did I arrive at this peaceful state and view? Through Scripture’s power to transform my mind and perspective on life (Romans 12:2; Titus 3:5). And, as Michael Horton expounds, this renewal in the Spirit is for all who are in Christ, through the Abrahamic covenant of grace—even Old Testament saints who knew the preincarnate Savior, such as the psalmists. With the author of Psalm 119, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil…I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” (vs. 162-165) Shall we not lovingly embrace God’s commands through Christ for personal peace? Let’s examine how the author of Psalm 119 thinks of God’s Law in these few verses.

He writes, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” (v. 162) The psalmist of 119 goes on and on about his delight, peace, help, and glory in God’s Word, for 176 verses! His praise and joy is for God’s commands and statutes in the Old Testament, but not because of the covenant of the Law, or Mosaic covenant. Both the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenants were in effect. (2) It is our  relationship of mercy and personal redemption with God that supplies us with the love for all things godly. Jesus taught about the one who treasures the gospel, the most intimate covenant gift from God. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) “These parables [in Chapter 13] describe the kind of people who have already been made alive in Christ…Do you want to know the character of one who has been made alive by God? He says with David, ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked’ (Ps. 84:10). He says of God’s laws, ‘They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold’ (Ps. 19:10). He declares, ‘Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path’ (Ps. 119:127–28)…Such a person has already had a change of values. He has recognized the poverty of all that comes from man and has seen the true splendor of the gospel.” (3) When we love Christ, we affectionately and expectantly embrace God’s commands.

This morning I confessed to the Lord (and now to you) that I don’t pray enough, because I don’t think to stop whatever I am doing to be quietly with the Lord. I met a neighbor when I stepped out of my apartment, whose husband is in hospice, and for whom I forgot to pray today. So after we had an extended, God-centered, convicting conversation, I returned to my apartment, went outside to the patio, without computer or phone, and prayed for a few minutes for them and others who are struggling. The psalmist wrote, “I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules (vs. 162-163).” I despise my falsehood and loathe my hypocrisy; I serve the Lord but don’t follow his command to “pray unceasingly” according to 1 Timothy 5:17. “The psalmist knew that if he was serious about his discipleship, he would have to immerse himself in the Bible; and he knew that if he did immerse himself in the Bible, he would have to obey it. We sometimes think of obedience as something we just have to grit our teeth and do, but the psalmist thought of it as a joyous, natural response to what he learned about God when he studied his Word.” (4)

Lately, the Lord keeps drawing me to think of and pray for Yemen, a nation that is facing a crisis in the collapse of the health care system and potential famine. Eighty percent of Yemenites depend on food aid, according to the Aljazeera report. (5) I have no peace about going to Yemen to help, but calmness, knowing that God has placed me in America at this time to pray for the nation’s people to have food, health care, COVID-19 tests, and especially the grace of God in Jesus Christ through eternal salvation “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (v. 165). “Personal peace comes from personal obedience…The verse does not promise peace to those who perfectly keep God’s Law, for who can keep it? It promises peace to those who ‘love’ God’s Law, which means, I suppose, those who love it because they have found God to be merciful by reading it…The obedient are secure. Where else can we find security in this life? Our only true security is in God. Surely there is no security for any of us in this life except in loving and living by the unshakable and eternal Word of God.” (6) 

What are your views and practical applications of God’s laws, commands, and statutes? What value do you place on your personal holiness, given to you by God and sustained by his Holy Spirit (not by your strength, determination, or efforts)? “While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life. As Paul warns, we do not receive justification and forgiveness by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, and then go on to sanctification as a matter of personal achievement. Not some of the blessings, but all of them are comprehended ‘in Christ.’ This spells the end of both legalism and antinomianism: none of the blessings are the result of our own achievement, and at the same time, those who inherit the blessing of justification are equally beneficiaries of regeneration and sanctification.” (7) Shall we not embrace David’s perspective? “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalms 19:7-11)

(1) Horton, Michael, “Introducing Covenant Theology,” Chapter 4, Baker Academic, eBook edition, 2020.

(2) I recommend Horton’s book (cited above) for a thorough, in-depth, theological study of the covenants, their establishment and operation throughout history.

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 13:44-58, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(4) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 119:153-168, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(5) Two recent articles on Yemen’s crisis: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/announces-225m-emergency-food-aid-yemen-200506205148851.html

and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-52493609

(6) Boice, Ibid.

(7) Horton, Ibid.

May 8, 2020