Seeking the Lord in Times of Trouble

September 5, 2016 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Trials
Psalm 13:1-4
 “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
         How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
         Having sorrow in my heart daily?
         How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
         Enlighten my eyes,
         Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
         “I have prevailed against him”;
         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
David lived a difficult life and seldom enjoyed long periods of peace and prosperity. It was left to his son Solomon to enjoy such things while he himself was a man of war. Because he was a man of war, David routinely found himself in tight spots. Mocked by his brothers; harrassed by Saul; despised by Abimelech; scorned by his wife; pursued by his son Absalom; David often found himself facing enemies – some outside his house and some, tragically, inside.
Psalm 13 was composed in just such a circumstance. David was in trouble, his enemies were surrounding him, his defeat at their hands seemed nigh at hand.
Imagine, if you will, the turmoil that struck David in each of these circumstances. The pain and fear that must have confronted him. Well – we need not imagine. For we find his fears, pains, and anxieties expressed in the psalm before us today.
“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
         How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
         Having sorrow in my heart daily?
         How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”

Now consider your own circumstances. What troubles are you facing? Which enemies are surrounding you? What fears, pains, and anxieties are troubling you?
One last question: what are you doing with those fears? Notice what David does with his fears: he brings his anxious longings into the very presence of God. He does not suppress them; he does not fester over them; he does not wallow in them. He gathers them together and puts them in the best hands possible – the Lord’s.
“Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
         Enlighten my eyes,
         Lest I sleep the sleep of death;”
Our Lord Jesus counseled us:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

Jesus calls us to be like David – to place our fears, our anxieties, our worries in the hands of our Faithful Father who cares for us and promises to protect us. But often we fail to do so, do we not? So reminded of our failure to entrust our worries into the Lord’s hands, let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Value of Discipline

February 7, 2016 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Trials
“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
Discipline should be a lively topic in our homes. As fathers and mothers we ought always to be reminding our children of the reasons for discipline. And as we explain these things, the text before us today should frequently be on our lips. “Now no chastening [discipline] seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Notice that the author of Hebrews tells us two things about discipline that we can pass on to our children but which we should also be passing on to ourselves. After all, first and foremost this passage concerns the way in which God disicplines us; only by analogy does it discuss an earthly father with his children. What then do we learn about discipline?
First, we learn that discipline is painful. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time it is administered. Its intention is to be painful. And so, you children out there, when your parents get out the rod to spank you or when they give you consequences for your sinful behavior or when they refuse to give you permission to do what you want – don’t expect this discipline to be enjoyable. Hebrews tells us that the whole purpose of the discipline is quite the opposite: it is supposed to be painful. For it is the pain that teaches us to avoid that pattern of behavior in the future; the pain that trains us and fashions us into mature men and women.
Most of us parents are adept at delivering this lesson to our children. But how often do we deliver this message to ourselves? Brothers and sisters, the discipline of the Lord does not seem pleasant at the time. When the Lord puts us through some trial or when the Lord disciplines us for violating His commandments, why is it that we expect things should be jolly? He is sharpening us; disciplining us; chastening us. We expect our children to know what those things mean; so why do we have such a hard time letting it soak in to our own consciousness? No discipline is enjoyable at the moment.
But this is not the only thing we learn about discipline. While discipline is painful, it is not intended to end in pain. The ultimate goal of the Lord’s discipline, as should be the goal of parental discipline, is the cultivation of the peaceful fruit of righteousness in our lives. Our Lord promises to use discipline to make us more lovely, mature, godly people. He is training us unto righteousness.
But note that this righteouness is not an automatic biproduct of discipline. If we are to see the fruit of righteousness in our lives then we must, in the words of our text, be trained by the discipline. In other words, we must take the discipline to heart and learn from it. We must not harden ourselves to the discpline; must not complain that we have been treated ill; must not kick against the goads. Rather we must bow the knee before our Lord and learn the lesson.
And so, children, how are you responding to the discipline of the Lord through your parents? Are you bowing the knee? Are you acknowledging the authorities that God has placed over you and submitting yourself to them? Does discipline produce in you the peaceful fruit of righteousness? Or is it instead producing anger, resentment, bitterness, complaining, grumbling, or depression? And what of us adults? How are we responding to the discipline of the Lord? Does discipline produce in us the peaceful fruit of righteousness? Or does it instead produce anger, resentment, bitterness, complaining, grumbling, or depression?

As we come into our Father’s presence this morning let us kneel and confess that often we have not received His discipline as we ought.

Face to Face Communication

January 31, 2016 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Bible - NT - Matthew, Confession, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Trials
2 John 12–13 (NKJV)
12 Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.
Today we bring to a close our series of exhortations on 2 John. John has reminded us time and again of the intimate relationship between truth and love. Truth and love are not competitors but companions. As we emphasized, truth is like our skeletal structure and love is like our flesh. Truth without love is dead and love without truth is an amorphous blob. Only truth and love together, bones and flesh together, enable us to serve Christ to the glory of the Father.
And because of this intimate connection between truth and love, John is not content simply to write to his audience. Written words are great; written words are important; written words can convey a lot. But written words cannot convey adequately the heartfelt love and loyalty that John had for this congregation. He wanted to speak with them face to face – so that they could not only read what he had to say but see how he said it. He wanted them to know how deadly these false teachings really were; how reliable Christ really is; how burdened John really was for their spiritual growth. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication.
John’s words remind us that when we are facing difficulties and challenges with others, the best remedy is face-to-face communication. Face-to-face interaction forces us to remember who this person really is; gives us an opportunity to clarify ourselves, to express our heart and to ask questions.
At no time is this face-to-face interaction more important than when someone has sinned against us. Jesus commands us in Matthew 18:15, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”Jesus commands us to pursue face-to-face communication with a brother or sister who has sinned against us. We are to “tell him his fault” privately – to speak to him, tell him the offense, and attempt to bring about reconciliation. We aren’t to give him the cold shoulder; aren’t to post his transgression on Facebook; aren’t to write him an email; aren’t to get even; aren’t to gossip to others. We are to go and tell him his fault privately. We are to seek him out face-to-face.
And the goal of this face-to-face communication is reconciliation. The goal is to re-establish peace and to again experience joy in the relationship. John writes, “I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” Doing the (often) challenging thing of pursuing our brother or sister when there is tension in the air is the only way to eliminate that tension and reestablish joy.

So reminded this morning of our calling to unite truth and love and to do it by seeking face-to-face contact with our brethren, particularly when there is tension in the relationship, let us confess that we often grow cold and distant instead; that we often keep to ourselves, become resentful or indifferent, and rob ourselves and our brethren of joy. And as we confess these things, let us kneel before the Lord.

God’s Compassion in Sufferings

September 7, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Ezekiel, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Bible - OT - Job, Meditations, Providence, Sanctification, Trials
James 5:10-11 (NKJV)
10
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
When you think of the compassion and mercy of our Lord, what comes to mind? Perhaps occasions when Jesus stoops down and heals those in pain and anguish? Perhaps occasions when God, despite Israel’s great sin, sends one deliverer after another to rescue them from the predicament that they have gotten themselves into? When we think of God’s compassion and mercy, these are the types of scenarios that come to mind.
But today, James points us to another evidence of God’s compassion and mercy, an evidence that we would be unlikely to see. What is this evidence? The evidence that James cites is the suffering endured by God’s prophets throughout the OT.
Think, for instance, of Jeremiah who is called the weeping prophet – called to bear witness to a people under judgment, his message rejected and refused, he himself thrown into a pit, left for dead, forced to witness the destruction of Jerusalem and dying in exile in Egypt. Take all of this as evidence, James tells us, of the compassion and mercy of the Lord. Think of Ezekiel, taken into exile into Babylon, told to make a fool of himself before his friends, forced to lie on his side for so many days, to play with tinker toys and army men in the city streets as a grown man, forbidden to weep when his wife died. Take all of this, James tells us, as evidence of the compassion and mercy of the Lord. Think of Job, robbed of his family, robbed of his wealth, robbed of his health, lectured by his friends. Take all of this as evidence, James tells us, of the compassion and mercy of the Lord.
Suffering and hardship as evidence of the compassion and mercy of the Lord? What is this? What is James talking about? Evidence of His power, perhaps. Evidence of His inscrutable wisdom, perhaps. Evidence of His mysteriousness, certainly. But evidence of His compassion and mercy? Yes – but in order to see it, we must also see something else. We must see what it is that God is really about in the course of our lives.
You see, if God is all about making us happy, carefree, and successful then suffering is not a sign of God’s compassion – it is a sign only of His discipline and disfavor. But sometimes, James tells us, suffering is a sign of His compassion. Therefore, God is not all about making us happy, carefree, and successful. Rather, His purpose is to make us men and women and children of faith; men and women and children who trust Him, rely upon Him, cling to Him, and obey Him no matter what the circumstance. This is what God is about. And if this is what He is about and if suffering creates us into this kind of people, then truly suffering is a sign of God’s compassion and mercy, is it not? For by suffering God trains us in patience and endurance – the very things James highlights.
So what of you? Have you considered that the sufferings through which God is making you pass right now, and that the sufferings through which He shall have you pass in the future, may be evidences of His compassion and mercy? Or have you instead looked upon them in unbelief, seeing them as evidence of how screwed up the world really is, or how much God hates you, or how little purpose there is in the world?

Reminded of our failure to look upon suffering in faith and even, at times, as a sign of God’s compassion and mercy, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Shall We Not Accept Adversity?

August 17, 2014 in Bible - OT - Job, King Jesus, Meditations, Sovereignty of God, Trials
Job 2:9–10 (NKJV)
9 Then [Job’s] wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Our sermon today considers God’s words to Adam and Eve following our rebellion against God. We will find that the various troubles that exist in the world have their origin in our rebellion. Toil, severe pain, animal suffering, weeds, strife, death – all these things entered the world as a consequence of our rebellion.
But it is important for us to understand, simultaneously, that none of these things took God by surprise or happened apart from His Sovereign control. God is the Lord. He rules over men and nations. Nothing happens apart from His decree, including the Fall.
Consequently, when we face the consequences of living in a fallen world – when, like Job, we begin to suffer: we lose our wealth; our health is compromised; our loved ones die – when these things happen, as Christians we know that they come from the hand of God. As Job reminds his wife, Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? God sends the one as well as the other; the heart of wisdom takes them from His hand and trusts Him in the midst of them.
If you are suffering, be assured that God is still in control, still ordaining and overseeing and governing all things. The question is not, “Has God sent this adversity?” – for we know most certainly that he has. No one can say to Him, what have you done?! The question rather is, “Why has God sent this thing?” Has he sent it because He hates you or because He loves you?
Hear the good news: if you have turned from your sins and sought forgiveness in Christ’s Name; if you serve God through Jesus, then God loves you. He has sent this suffering because He delights in you and delights to show through you the wonder of His power. So trust Him, rely upon Him, and know that not a hair falls from your head without your Father’s say.

Reminded that our God reigns and that he sends even adversity for the good of His chosen people, let us confess that we are often tempted to respond to adversity like Job’s wife; we’re often tempted to curse God. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Joe Biden and Civilized Nations

June 29, 2014 in Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - Matthew, Church History, Homosexuality, Love, Meditations, Politics, Trials
Matthew 5:11–12 (NKJV)
11 “Blessed are you when [men] revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Vice President Joe Biden declared this last Tuesday that “protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.” He warned other nations that there is a price to pay for failing to do so.
We shouldn’t misunderstand what this means. In one fell swoop, Biden has identified all traditional Christians – as well as Jews and Muslims for that matter – as enemies of civilization. Of course, Biden is using this rhetoric to justify intervention and regime change in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia. But such a statement must necessarily relegate us to barbaric status as well. Should this policy prevail, we will find ourselves the object of discrimination and persecution, labeled as “those who turn the world upside down.”
It is fitting for us to remember, therefore, how we are to respond to such persecution. It is ever easy to take opposition personally and forget that in defending the cause of Christ we’re not defending ourselves but the truth. And because we’re defending the truth, we can rest in the knowledge that God is His own best Defender. He will vindicate His Name and demonstrate to all nations that He is Yahweh.
In the meantime, our calling as individuals is to imitate His grace and mercy by showing kindness to those who persecute us or say all kinds of evil against us. While standing courageously for the truth and speaking it frankly, we are to look for ways to bless and extend grace to our persecutors. Why? Because this is the way God acts toward his enemies day by day. And if God extends grace, ought not we?
We must always beware the lure of moralism and defensiveness; we must ever remember the grace and mercy that God has extended to us and so extend it to others. As we do so, we can rest in God’s promise that no gracious word, no good deed, no turning of the other cheek will go unnoticed. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And this type of faith manifesting itself in love is precisely what the Apostles modeled for us when they were persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for preaching Christ – they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name(Acts 5:41b).

But often we respond to the criticisms and slanders of others not by giving a blessing but by giving an insult instead. Rather than returning good for evil, we return evil for evil. But this is not the way of our Lord Christ, nor is it the way that God will work to bring the nations to bow before Christ and acknowledge Him to be Lord of all. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would enable us to give a blessing instead.

Does God Love Us or Hate Us?

December 27, 2010 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations, Sovereignty of God, Trials

Proverbs 3:11-12 (NKJV)
11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

One of the great consolations that attends a deeper awareness of God’s sovereignty and control over all of life – over the good and the bad, the favorable and the unfavorable providences – is the knowledge that no matter what is happening God is in control. God is on His Holy Hill – He shall not be moved. He who causes the constellations to do His bidding shall even so cause the sons of men to go where He wills and do what He desires.

Solomon uses the knowledge of God’s exhaustive sovereignty to comfort his son, to remind his son how to respond to hard providences. He urges him, “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His corrections.” When hard providences come, don’t kick against the goads; don’t shake your fist at God; don’t be like Job’s wife, cursing God and dying.

Why not? Well here it is necessary to make an important distinction. For those who are in rebellion against God, who do not love Him nor desire to serve Him through Christ, the Scripture offers little comfort. As we read in Psalm 7, God is angry with the wicked every day. In so far as we are in rebellion against God, hard providences are not signs of God’s love and care but His judgment. Our response, therefore, ought not to be to comfort ourselves that this suffering has some purpose but rather to repent and acknowledge that we have failed to love and honor our Creator as we ought.

However, provided that our relationship to God is not one of “rebel to lawful Lord” but rather one of “son to father”, Solomon assures us that the hard providences we face are no longer a sign of His wrath and anger but His love. “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”

So what challenges are you facing? What hard providences? Here is Solomon’s word to you: God has you in that situation. Make no mistake about it – God is absolutely sovereign. This situation didn’t catch Him by surprise. He crafted this providence just for you. So the question is, did He craft it just for you because He loves you or because He hates you? That’s the question. Did God put this trial in your path because He loves you or because He hates you? If you are God’s child, trusting in Him through Christ our Lord, then the promise is that He has you there because He loves you. So our call is to trust that He knows exactly what He is doing and that He is orchestrating this for our good.

But we often respond to hard providences in unbelief, do we not? We imagine that we are victims of others’ folly; victims of unseen powers; even victims of our own folly. And no doubt God does sometimes use these means to bring us where we are. But make no mistake – God is the One who brought us here. Hence, the call to endure hard providences is a call to faith – to believe that the God who has given us this hard providence is our Father who loves us and has put this providence in our path for our good and not for our destruction. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, even as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Reminded that we often fail to trust God in the midst of our trials, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Like a Weaned Child with His Mother

November 6, 2009 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Trials

Psalm 131:2 (NKJV)
2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

A couple weeks ago we spoke of the lesson that infants teach us in their hunger. Just as infants cry and pull at their mother’s clothing to get at the milk, so we as the people of God are to hunger and thirst for the Word of God. We are to long for the pure milk of the Word that by it we may grow in respect to salvation. But children aren’t always quite so passionate about eating. Is there anything to learn when they grow up a bit? According to the psalmist the answer is yes.

Psalm 131 is one of the songs of ascent, sung when the men of Israel would journey to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts. God had commanded that the men of Israel appear before Him in Jerusalem three times per year. While sometimes whole families were able to travel to Jerusalem, frequently because of the cost and inconvenience involved, only the men were able.

Imagine, then, the fears that would beset families as the men prepared to go. The men would worry about their wives and children – will they be well when I return? will enemies attack while I am gone? The women would worry about their husbands, their children, themselves – will my husband return? what will I do if he doesn’t? what will I do if our enemies attack? how will I protect our home? Fear was a great temptation.

But God had not left them without assurance – He had promised them that He would take care of them during these times; that He would be their Protector and Defender. Exodus 34:23-24 declares, “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.” God promised that He would protect their homes as they went up to Jerusalem. And so the question became – will we trust Him, will we believe Him?

Around this question began to swirl a collection of songs, called the psalms of ascent. These are Psalms 120-134 in the Psalter. These psalms were especially sung in this time when the men of Israel were called to leave their homes and journey to Jerusalem.

Psalm 131 was sung to move the Israelites to patient trust in the promise of God. And notice the heart of the meditation: Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. The psalmist was a careful student of the people of God – not just the big people, but the little ones as well. And in the life of weaned children, he learned what we are to be like in times of trial.

As husbands and fathers made the trip to Jerusalem and feared for their families, as wives, mothers, and children remained at home and feared what could face them with the men away and their enemies surrounding them, this psalm would have been a great comfort and encouragement. What do we learn from weaned children? To be calm and quiet in the presence of our provider – no longer pulling and yanking at our mother’s breast to get that food. No instead now we know that our mother cares for us, we know that she shall feed us, we no longer fear that she will forsake us; for she has demonstrated her love for us time and again and we trust her.

This is the message learned from weaned children in our text today – our attitude to the Lord God is to be like this little child toward his mother. But often it is quite the opposite. We fuss and whine; we yank at the blouse, pull at the bra, trying to convince God to feed us when he has already promised to do so.

So the call of weaned children is this: trust God, he will provide for you, he will protect you, he will fulfill his promises. Entrust yourself to him and to His loving care. Reminded that we have failed to trust Him, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Refined in a Furnace

August 3, 2009 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Trials

8 Oh, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
9 Who keeps our soul among the living,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.
10 For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
11 You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
12 You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment. Ps 66:8-12

When trials come our way from whom do they come? Shall we curse some blind fate? Shall we lay the blame at the feet of our enemies? Shall we scorn our own folly?

The psalmist today reminds us that trials come upon us, ultimately, from the hand of our loving and personal God – our God who loves us and desires nothing more than to see us grow and prosper.

But why does God do this thing? Why does he bring trials our way? The psalmist provides us with a couple reasons. First, God wishes to refine us as silver is refined. “For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined.” There is simply no way to get the impurities out of the precious metal silver without heating it up and burning them out. And there is no way to get the sin out of our lives without trials and struggles. Without them, we become slack and lazy, coddling our sin and thinking that truly we are upright people. It is only when God brings trials upon us that we throw ourselves at Jesus feet like Jairus when his daughter lay dying, and say, “Help me Lord!”

Second, He wishes to reveal to us how great His determination to bless us is. He wants to bring us through trial to an abundant and fruitful life. “I have come,” our Lord Jesus assured His disciples, “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” And so we go through fire and water, we get caught in the net, we have affliction laid upon our backs. Why? Because God is a masochist? No – because He delights to rescue us from our afflictions and demonstrate His great power. “You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” God delights to bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey. But we can’t get there without going through the Red Sea.

And so what should our response be to trials that come our way? Well listen to the voice of the psalmist: “Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to be moved.”

But what is our response instead? Is it not to grumble and complain? To curse the day we were born? To accuse our God?

Reminded of our failure to trust our Heavenly Father in the midst of our trials and hardships, let us kneel before Him and ask Him to forgive us and grant that we might be as silver refined in a furnace seven times.