December 24, 2017

Christmas Poem, 2017: In the Morning, Joy and Light

Here is this year's Christmas poem.  Keep in mind, as always, that these poems have a good deal of reading between the lines in them ... as I try and place myself into the history and wonder about the sorts of things that may have gone through the minds of the various players in the incarnation accounts. I'm wondering these things aloud, not to try and re-write the story (much less to assert that my imaginings are factual), but simply as a way of getting at the narratives afresh, and trying to draw some lessons from them.

You can listen to the poem here, or read it below the page break.

December 18, 2017

"You shall call His name ..."

A lovely theme in Matthew’s telling of the Christmas account is his emphasis on what the Child of Bethlehem is called. Have you ever noticed it? Three times Matthew points out what this special Child is, or was to be, called. And each name or title is instructive.

First, we are told in Matthew 1:16 that this Jesus, born of Mary, “is called the Messiah.”* And who was the Messiah? He was the Anointed One, the Redeemer, the coming King that the Old Testament and the Jewish people had long been anticipating. The Messiah was the seed of the woman (Genesis 3), who would come and crush the devil’s head. He was the seed of Abraham, in whom “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22). He was the Son of David, who would someday reign on His ancestor’s throne. He was the longed-for child of Isaiah 9, who would bring light into darkness and peace into war. He was the suffering servant, who would be “pierced through for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53). He was the one toward whom all “the fullness of the times” was gestating! The culmination of God’s great redemptive purposes! “Jesus … who is called the Messiah.”

And then, not only does Matthew point out His Messianic title, but also His personal name: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”* (Matthew 1:21). The name “Jesus” is our English version of the Hebrew name Joshua, or Y’shua. And this Hebrew name, Y’shua, means the LORD (Yahweh) saves. And that is precisely what this Child of Bethlehem came to do – to “save His people from their sins.” Jesus “became flesh”; and He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin”; and He “bore our sins in His body on the cross”; and He rose on the third day; and He is coming again, someday soon … all in fulfillment of that marvelous name, and of the heavenly mission of salvation that lay beneath it! “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”

And then notice, thirdly, that Matthew points out, from the prophecy of Isaiah, another name by which this Child would be called (Matthew 1:23): “‘They shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’”* What a name! This babe in the manger is indeed truly human – very man of very man! But He is also very God of very God! “God with us”*. This, in fact, is why He is able to “save His people from their sins”! For “who can forgive sins but God alone?” No one! And so praise God that this baby is, indeed, Immanuel! That He is, indeed, “God with us.”* And praise God that He came to be “with us” – to walk among us, and to take upon Himself our nature, “sympathiz[ing] with our weaknesses,” entering our temptations, and dying our death. What a name, Immanuel!

Consider what the baby of Bethlehem is called, this Christmas. And in addition to all, I hope that, by faith, you can call Him yours!

*Bold or italicized emphases within biblical quotations have been added by this article’s author, and are not part of the original biblical text.

December 12, 2017

Uncomfortable Christmas

We’d all like our Christmases to fit quaintly, picturesquely, onto a holiday postcard. A fresh layer of snow blanketing the ground, and spread perfectly, like icing, on every ledge of the house. Warm light glowing from the windows. The scent of apples, cinnamon, and warm meat lingering, enticingly, in the air. All the family gathered happily ‘round the fire or the tree. And, of course, cards mailed and presents bought and wrapped, well in advance! This is Christmas, as many of us envision it. It’s certainly how I like my late Decembers to look and feel. I long for my family to have our own little “silent night, holy night” on which “all is calm, all is bright.”

But maybe I import a little of my own Christmas longings, expectations, and traditions into the scene in Bethlehem. For, while there surely were parts of that holy night that fit right in with Joseph Mohr’s famous description of it (“silent”, “calm”, and “bright”) … let us also remember that, for Mary and Joseph, the night was probably less-than-quaint in a good many ways, too! They were living out of a suitcase on that holy night in Bethlehem. And few of us like to do that. Let’s not forget, either, that Mary was nine months pregnant, which comes with its own set of discomforts (which are usually not the portrait of Christmas cheer and charm, for the mother!). And that’s before we think about the process of actually giving birth! Remember, too, that things hadn’t quite worked out as well as the young couple might have hoped with the whole lodging situation. And so they weren’t staying at the Holiday Inn, or at a warm little cottage in the snowy woods, or even at grandma’s house! Surely it was, in many ways, an awkward and uncomfortable first Christmas, there in Bethlehem! Had we lived through it ourselves, methinks it would have seemed anything but picturesque!

And yet it was into a scene like this – not the one on the postcard, but the one in which a young couple is seriously roughing it – that Christ came to be Immanuel, “God with us”! It was on an uncomfortable first Christmas that God chose to send the world His joy, and peace, and hope, and mercy, and salvation in Christ! Why? I think as a reminder that God, in Christ, offers hope in the midst of our own less-than-picturesque lives! Sin has left us roughing it! And Christ has come as a Savior, not into a scene from Currier and Ives, but into the dirty snow cast up by the ever churning wheels of our brokenness.

Does that mean I am intentionally going to try and make my Christmas more like uncomfortable Bethlehem, and less like a Thomas Kinkade painting? No! But it does mean that, if this holiday season is awkward, lonely, difficult, nerve-wracking, painful, marked by failure, or in any other way lacking in traditional charm, I need not think that I have missed Christmas. For Christmas is about the coming of Christ! And this Christ chose to show up, that first Christmas, not in the postcard, but in a scene lot more like our own scrambled Christmases than we are sometimes prone to remember! And this Christmas (as in all the other seasons of our muddled lives); this Christmas, whether “all is calm and bright” or not – and precisely because, in reality, it is not – Christ will come to His broken people still.

December 4, 2017

Christmas and Missions

Every year at Pleasant Ridge, our missions emphasis overlaps with Christmastime. For good reason, Southern Baptists collect a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®. Taking a cue from the Methodists of her day, the great Southern Baptist missionary, Lottie Moon (the offering’s namesake), pointed out to her own denomination how Christmas, the time of giving, is an appropriate time for giving, specifically, to world missions! And so Christmas and missions have long gone hand-in-hand for Southern Baptists!

But missions and Christmas overlap, not just because Christmas is a great time for giving, and specifically for giving to missions. Christmas and missions overlap theologically, as well! For one thing, as my friend David Bass reminded us in a sermon many years ago, Jesus, in His incarnation and earthly ministry, was the great missionary – leaving His home in heaven, and going on mission to lost and dying people who needed the good news! That’s what missionaries do, isn’t it? They leave home, and go on mission to some needy place, for the sake of the gospel! And that is what Christ did in entering the womb of Mary and the world of men! He was the greatest missionary! Christmas is about a missionary journey!

And not only that; not only was Christ’s coming to earth a mission trip, in itself … but it was the foundation and impetus for many centuries more of missionary endeavor; many centuries more of getting the gospel to the far reaches of the planet. The angels, at Christ’s birth, announced “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Luke 2:10, emphasis added). And Micah prophesied that the child of Bethlehem “will be great To the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4, emphasis added). Wrapped up in the incarnation, in other words, is the expectation of world missions; the expectation that the news of Christ will get out, the world over!

In fact, we sing this expectation every year, too, don’t we? “Joy to the world”, Isaac Watts taught us to exclaim … because Jesus “comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found”. And, to “our long-expected Jesus,” Charles Wesley has taught us to cry, “hope of all the earth Thou art.” The birth of Christ, as John W. Work Jr. has taught us, compels us to “go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere” (emphasis, through this paragraph, is added).

And so I urge you to always keep these two things together – Christmas and missions. Let the thought of Christ’s mission to this desperate and needy world set your sights, and prayers, and desires, and generosity on the parts of it that are still desperate and needy for the “good news of great joy” which comes only in Christ!

November 30, 2017

December Devotions

In spite of all the unhealthy trappings of the holiday season, we are greatly blessed to have this yearly, cultural reminder of the promise and coming of “God with us”! And it is well if we capture that seasonal momentum, leveraging it toward the fixing of our gaze on the miracle of the incarnation. So, since we are already surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmas, why not gear our personal or family devotions along the same lines? Why not spend the month of December reading, as individuals and/or families, a series of passages that will help us to consider the need, the promise, the narrative, and the blessings of the coming of Immanuel?

Sound like a plan? If so, print this article, tuck it into your Bible, and use the plan that I have sketched out below. Basically, I have selected five readings per week, for each of the four full weeks of December. The selections (meant to be read in order) begin by helping us see the need for the Savior, move to the promise of His coming, and then shift to the narrative and blessings of that coming. I hope and trust that, should you choose to make use of this little plan, it will prove a blessing.

     Week 1 (12/3-9)
     Genesis 1:1-25
     Genesis 1:26-2:3
     Genesis 3:1-7
     Genesis 3:8-15
     Genesis 3:16-24

     Week 2 (12/10-16)
     Isaiah 9:1-7
     Micah 5:2-5a
     Luke 1:26-38
     Luke 1:46-55
     John 1:1-14

     Week 3 (12/17-23)
     Galatians 4:4-5
     Matthew 1:18-25
     Luke 2:1-7
     2 Corinthians 8:9
     Luke 2:8-14

     Week 4 (12/24-30)
     Luke 2:15-21
     Matthew 2:1-12
     Luke 2:22-40
     John 3:16-17
     1 Peter 3:18

May God richly bless you and yours this Christmas season!

November 3, 2017

Wait, What?

The LORD had just delivered His people from the madness of Pharaoh … parting the waters of the Red Sea, bringing them safely across, and then letting gravity resume its course when Pharaoh and his hoards ventured onto the seabed. “Then they believed His words” we are told in Psalm 106:12. And then “they sang His praise.” And rightly so! They had doubted Him (v.7) when their backs were against the wall of the Sea, with Pharaoh in hot pursuit. But God had saved them anyway, “for the sake of His name” (v.8)! And rightly did they sing! And rightly did they now believe God’s promises to them! It must have been a marvelous scene!

And they all lived happily ever after, right? They went right on their way from the Red Sea, singing with faith, right? Surely that’s what the psalm will tell us! So let’s keep reading this story of triumph:

Then they believed His words;
They sang His praise.
They quickly forgot His works;
They did not wait for His counsel
Psalm 106:12-13

Wait, what?

Did I miss something between verses 12 and 13? They believed God? Yes. They sang? Yes, and rightly so! And the very next thing we read is that these same people forgot the mighty deeds, and “did not wait for [the] counsel” of the very same God who had just rescued them? Yes!

I know, I know. Most of us know the details of these events well enough that verse 13 doesn’t actually surprise us. We know about the Israelites’ backsliding. But it still ought to startle us to read about the rapidity of it! “They believed His words; They sang His praise” … and, without missing a beat, the very next words of the psalm are: “They quickly forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel”? Not to say that they forgot and became impatient as rapidly as we can read about it in Psalm 106. But it did happen “quickly”! And the rapidity of the about-face between vv.12-13 is startling. And so are the sad details of that about-face, rehearsed for us as we read on in the psalm.

How quickly Israel forgot the kindnesses and promises and mighty acts of their God! And how rapidly they began doing things their own way! And aren’t we glad that we are not like that? Except that, sometimes, we kind of are!

Now it’s true, the New Covenant people of God (all of whom are truly converted, Jeremiah 31:31-34) will not usually turn as far, and forget as deeply, as Old Testament Israel sometimes did. And we praise God for that! But, even though we who have been born again may not typically fall as hard or as far as the Israelites, we still often find ourselves fairly rapidly forgetting the promises of God, and the mighty deeds that He has done, and the prayers He has answered. And we still often find ourselves doing things our own way, don’t we? We still find ourselves, sometimes, moving fairly quickly from faith to forgetfulness, and from singing to self-direction! We still sometimes find ourselves doubting, sulking, murmuring, despairing, disobeying, and taking matters into our own hands.

Sometimes the testimony of our lives can read: ‘They believed! They sang! They forgot! They turned to their own ways!’ So let us be warned by the rapid backsliding of Israel. By God’s grace, let us cultivate better memories! And by His grace, let us dig deeper wells of faith! And the better those memories, and the deeper those wells, the more consistent will be the songs and the obedience which flow from them!

October 26, 2017

Post Tenebras Lux

Or in English: ‘After Darkness, Light.’ This became a motto the Protestant Reformation. For, after centuries of unbiblical, superstitious, soul-destroying Roman Catholic darkness … God, through the reformers, made His gospel light to shine clearly once more. Post Tenebras Lux.

But this phrase, famously connected with the Reformation, could equally be described of other great periods in the history of God’s dealings with mankind, could it not? And it could be written as the caption beneath many lesser-known interventions of God, as well.

We might hang this beautiful Latin phrase as a banner over the great reformation and revival that took place under King Josiah of old (2 Kings 22-23), when God’s book was (literally) rediscovered, and God’s worship was rightly restored. Post Tenebras Lux.

We might also inscribe these lovely words on the record-books of the great Evangelical Awakening that overspread Great Britain in the 18th century. The clouds had grown dark, spiritually and morally, by the early 1700’s. But, through the preaching of men like Whitefield, Wesley, Rowlands, and others, the light of Christ dawned once more. Post Tenebras Lux.

Your own story, too (if you are in Christ) is an example of this same theme, is it not? Your sins left you shrouded in darkness. But God, in the gospel of His dear Son, “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Post Tenebras Lux.

And, of course, the greatest bursting of light into darkness came when Christ Himself, “the Light of the world”, entered into the darkness, not only of “Galilee of the Gentiles” and Judea of the Pharisees, but of an entire world fallen into sin … so that “the people who walk in darkness” (the Galileans, in Isaiah 9:2; but not limited to them, in the grand scheme of things) would “see a great light.” Post Tenebras Lux.

‘After darkness, light’ is God’s modus operandi, you see! He loves to rescue, redeem, restore, and revive. And the Reformation, whose 500th anniversary is nearly upon us, is one of the greatest examples of this love! And there are many more examples, too – each of which should add to our confidence in the Post Tenebras Lux God! Each of them should urge us – when we think of the spiritual night that seems to be descending upon our land, or the deep darkness in which some of our family or friends continue to walk – “to pray and not to lose heart.” God is still the God of Post Tenebras Lux!

October 19, 2017

"If we walk in the Light"

“but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

I love this verse! I have quoted it numerous times in recent years. But I have to admit that, of the two benefits of walking in the light, I have mostly focused my attention on the latter – “If we walk in the Light … the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” That’s a marvelous truth! It’s a wonderful comfort! And it is a strong inducement to, indeed, “walk in the Light” – to come out into the open about our sin, and to bring it to Christ in repentance and faith; to “confess our sins,” as John puts it just two verses later. If we do so, the blood of Christ will make us clean – “whiter than snow”, as David puts it elsewhere! So thank God for the second of the two benefits mentioned in our text!

But I haven’t always paid as much heed as I ought to the first of those benefits! I haven’t always given a lot of thought to the fact that “walk[ing] in the Light” – coming out into the open about our sin, and repenting of it – has an effect, not only on our fellowship with God (through the cleansing of our sin), but also on our fellowship with other people (and particularly, in the context of the verse, with other believers). But, though I haven’t always given much notice to this fact, it’s right there in the text, isn’t it? The verse doesn’t just say that “if we walk in the Light” we’ll be cleansed before God, but it also says that “if we walk in the Light … we have fellowship with one another” (emphasis added).

How so?

Well, consider the bitterness or frustration that can build up in relationships (yes, even between believers) when someone consistently refuses to simply admit when they have done wrong; when they regularly try and pull a curtain over their sin, desperate to keep it from coming into the full light – when they engage in cover-ups, or make excuses, or shift blame, or shade the truth, or posture things in such a way as to avoid having to simply say: ‘I was wrong. I have no excuse. It’s my fault. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?’ Have you experienced that? It’s mindboggling, isn’t it? And it can create breaches in our fellowship with one another. But, on the other hand, our text says that if we’ll just bring our sins out into the light, fellowship will be the result. Because, while we ought to forgive people even before they confess (and even if they don’t confess) … the reality is that, a proper confession actually seeks forgiveness … and very often finds it (especially in the Christian context from which John writes!). Furthermore, if we are honest about our sins, they can then be worked through, and moved past (both by ourselves, and others). And, in a truly Christian context, they usually will be! And, not only that, but honesty about our sin creates an atmosphere of reality and vulnerability in a church which lends itself to true fellowship, rather than to ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ Christian mask-wearing. And so “if we walk in the Light … we have fellowship with one another.”

Consider also the scenario where you yourself are hiding some sin in the darkness. You took something; you broke something; you fudged something; you lied about something; you were unfaithful to your spouse (whether through physical adultery, or persistent heart adultery). And you ought to make your sin known to the offended party, and seek to get things right … but instead you’re keeping it a secret. It can be miserable, can it not? And not only because you may find yourself walking around, laden with guilt. But also because that guilt can ramp up when you’re with the person you sinned against, and to whom you ought to confess. And so now, even if they don’t know it (and through no fault of their own), you are uneasy around them. Maybe you become emotionally distant from them, or even find yourself avoiding them. And fellowship is dampened … because you haven’t been willing to “walk in the Light”; you haven’t been willing to confess and seek forgiveness. But if you will come out into the open about your sin, not only will you gain the relief of no longer having to keep it hidden, but the person you’ve sinned against, once he/she has been made aware of your wrong-doing, now has an opportunity to forgive you for it – and he/she probably will (especially if he or she is among the believing “one another” of 1 John 1:7)! And fellowship will be restored! You’ll no longer have reason to be uneasy or distant!

So let’s rejoice in both benefits of 1 John 1:7 – in both cleansing and fellowship. And let’s allow them both encourage us to pull back the curtains, and to bring our sin out into the light.

October 9, 2017

Looking Ahead at PRBC

The last 2½ months of the PRBC year are always a season of good opportunities and important preparation. This year is no exception. To get you ready (and praying), here’s a little head’s up as to some of what is, Lord willing, ahead between now and the close of the year:

Reformation Reading. In this month of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, don’t forget about all the materials that are on our Resource Rack, to help you learn more about the great work of God in restoring the Word and the gospel to His church.

Reformation Hymn-Sing. The King’s Chapel is hosting an evening of celebrating the Reformation through the singing of hymns. October 29, 6:30pm at The King’s Chapel. Join in!

Servant Ministry Roles. We’re asking the church family to be thinking and praying, this month, about how God might have you serve in and through PRBC in 2018. Please do make every effort to consider this carefully, and to turn in your questionnaires by 10/29. Be praying for the elders and deacons, too, as they gather in November to piece together a proposed servant ministry roster for the coming year.

Possible New Elder. The elders and deacons are considering recommending Brad Garrison for the position of elder. See today’s bulletin announcement for details. Please pray that the elders and deacons would have the mind of Christ in this matter … and that we all, as a congregation, would have Christ’s mind about this as well.

2018 Budget. Please be in prayer for the elders and deacons, also, as we gather in November to put together a proposed 2018 budget.

Operation Christmas Child. We’ll begin collecting various gifts for Operation Christmas Child on October 22. Keep an eye out for bulletin inserts that will inform you of what can (and cannot) be donated. Please note that toothpaste and candy cannot be donated this year.  Our wrapping party is scheduled for 11/17.

International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We will use our 9am prayer meeting on Sunday, 11/5, to concertedly pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. The hour will feature a video and prayer materials from The Voice of the Martyrs. The children’s class at that hour will also pray, and watch a children’s video.

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®. Each year, in December, we collect this offering … 100% of which goes to support our International Mission Board's missionary efforts. Be thinking and praying about what you might give this year!

Lots of opportunities for joining in! And lots of reasons to pray! Join us in doing both!

October 3, 2017

Vernacular Scriptura

One of the great blessings of the Protestant Reformation was the rediscovery of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – the truth that what we believe, in matters of Christian faith and practice, must come from Scripture alone. But perhaps of equal value, both during the Reformation, and even before it, was what we might call Vernacular Scriptura – that is, the translating of the Bible into the vernacular; into the language of the masses!

Praise God for this development! For, how far would many of the needed reforms have gotten if Reformation leaders had obeyed the unjust laws of their day, which forbade translating the Bible into the common tongues of the people; if the written word of God had remained locked away in a language (Latin) which most people could neither read nor understand? So praise God for men like Wycliffe, Luther, Tyndale, and others who brought the word of God to the people, in their own languages! We are still benefitting, today, from this great Reformation advance!

And how ought we respond, given the precious blessing of having what so many people, for so many years, did not have – the Bible in our own tongue? Let me make three suggestions:

1. Read it! It’s quite simple, isn’t it? Men and women of old were willing to risk their lives in order to make the Bible available in the English language. Most of us have multiple copies – resources that they would have given almost anything to possess. Let us not let them go to waste! Let us, very simply, take advantage of what the Reformation has bequeathed to us. Let us actually read these English Bibles that are at our fingertips!

2. Give it away! Preaching is indispensable … and it was so during the Protestant Reformation. But so, also, was the newly acquired opportunity for the literate population to actually read the Bible for themselves. The providential dovetailing of Bible-translation into the common tongue, coupled with the recent invention of the printing press, put the Bible in front of many, many eyes that had never read it before! And it was spiritual dynamite across Europe! And maybe, just maybe, something like that could happen in our own day, if we began to put the Bible before eyes that have scarcely read it. Our neighbors’ reasons for not reading the Scriptures are different from many of the people of the Reformation era, but maybe some of our contemporaries would read if we gave them a neat little copy, say, of the gospel or Mark, or Luke, or John. And who knows what God might do!

Note also that The Voice of the Martyrs is working to provide many Christians, “living in hostile and restricted nations,” with their own copies of the Bible!  You can give toward this worthy cause at

3. Support translation! There are still languages in the world, today, into which the Scriptures have not yet been translated! Not for the same reasons as in Europe of old, but there are still people who have never read the Bible in their own language – and some who will never read it at all, unless it is provided in their own language! And yet, praise God, there are people and organizations committed to remedying this lack! Pray for them! Consider supporting them financially! And, if you have a gift for languages, consider studying Bible, Greek, and Hebrew so that you might, perhaps, join them someday in the mission of Vernacular Scriptura!

“The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). May we continue to unfold those words, brothers and sisters, both for ourselves and others!

September 28, 2017

Sermons: The Fruit of the Spirit

We've just completed a study of "the fruit of the Spirit" from Galatians 5:22-23.  Listen in!

Galatians 5:22-23 - Intro and Love - mp3
Galatians 5:22b - Joy - mp3
Galatians 5:22c - Peace - mp3
Galatians 5:22d - Patience - mp3
Galatians 5:22e - Kindness - mp3
Galatians 5:22f - Goodness - mp3
Galatians 5:22g - Faithfulness - mp3
Galatians 5:23a - Gentleness - mp3
Galatians 5:23b - Self-Control - mp3

Thanks, Gary and Carolyn, for the delicious peaches pictured above!

September 25, 2017

Reformation Resources

October 31st, 1517.

Mallet in hand, a German monk and university professor named Martin Luther walked to the Wittenberg church door, nailed to it ninety-five points for debate, and opened the floodgates upon a growing tide of gospel truth that gushed out as the Protestant Reformation. And now, going on five hundred years later, we have great cause to be thankful to God for the recovery of the Bible and its gospel of grace! And we have reason to familiarize ourselves with the people, the events, and the truths contended for in the Protestant Reformation.

This month of October (whose final day marks the 500th anniversary of Luther's opening of the floodgates) would be a good time to take up such a project of familiarization. So, I've compiled a list of resources that could help you do so. Some of them are longer, others more brief. Some are basic, others more detailed. A few are audio or video resources, though most are written. Some are for children, others for adults. Some are free, and others will be worth paying for. You won't get to them all, but you would be blessed to take up one, or two, or more of them ... and get to know our rich Christian heritage in the month leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Books marked with an asterisk (*) are available to borrow in the Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church library.  

The links for paper-copy books are to Amazon.  Please note that you can get many of these books from Grace Books for even better prices (and free shipping on orders over $50)!  If you order from Grace Books, however, please note that (since Grace is in PA) you will not be charged sales tax (unless you live in PA!), and you will therefore need to report these purchases to your home state, and pay the appropriate sales tax to your home state.  The same is true if you purchase from other online outlets that do not collect sales tax for your home state (including Amazon if it does not colelct sales tax for your state).

Introduction to the Reformation


The Five Solas 
(listed from the most basic to the most detailed)

Website: The Five Solas of the Reformation, James M. Boice

Teaching Curriculum: These truths alone: Why the Reformation Solas are essential for our faith today, Jason Helopoulos (free copies available at PRBC)

The Five Solas book series


Biographies of the Reformers
Free Daily Readings/Podcast: Here We Stand: A 31-Day Journey with the Heroes of the Reformation, Desiring God (this looks excellent!)

Free E-Book: Portrait of Calvin, T.H.L. Parker


Writings of the Reformers
Website: The Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther

The Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther (edited by Stephen Nichols)

Free PDF: The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther

Free PDF: Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Martin Luther


For Kids

September 18, 2017

The Beauty of Baptism

This Sunday morning, Lord willing, we will have the privilege of witnessing five baptisms at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church. Praise God for how He is working! And, on an occasion such as this, it is well if we ponder the spiritual beauty of what we witness when we see someone baptized. So consider, with me, three beautiful aspects of baptism:

1. Baptism is a picture.
Now, note well that baptism is only a picture. It does not wash away sins or contribute to a person’s salvation in any way. It is, rather, a portrait of what has happened already in the life of the man, women, girl, or boy who has been saved through Christ! And yet, though it is only a picture, it is indeed an important and beautiful picture! The Christian’s immersion (or burial) in water is symbolic of the marvelous reality that his or her old, sinful man has been buried with Christ! And, when that same person is then raised out of the water, we have a wonderful picture of the new, resurrection life that has been granted to everyone who is in Christ.
“We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
It is because of this burial and resurrection picture that we baptize only believers (only people who have actually experienced burial and resurrection with Christ). And it is also because of this picture that we baptize by immersion (or burial) in water. For it is immersion, and not sprinkling or pouring, that actually presents to us the beautiful picture that Paul describes in Romans 6 – burial and resurrection with Jesus!

2. Baptism is an announcement.
When a person goes through the waters of baptism, he is, to the best of his ability, confirming his belief that burial and resurrection with Christ has actually taken place in his life. And the elders who take responsibility for the baptism are, to the best of their ability, confirming the same. And, since baptisms often take place in front of the gathered congregation, baptism is not only a confirmation of the saving work of God in a person’s life, but also an announcement of it as well! Baptisms are occasions for public celebration of what God has done; for joining with the angels (Luke 15:10) in the celebration of God’s saving work in the lives of those around us.

3. Baptism is a marker.
Consider the context of that baptism-as-burial-and-resurrection passage in Romans 6. What is Paul’s main point in that passage? Well, he is arguing that Christians must not go on carelessly in their sins. “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” he asks in v.2. Good question! And, to nail down the fact that Christians have, indeed, died to sin (and to remind them that Christians can, indeed, “walk in newness of life”), Paul reminds his readers (in vv.3-4) of when they were baptized, and of what baptism pictures! He carries them back to the day of baptism as a reminder that, ‘When you were baptized, the picture was that the old you was buried … and that, in Christ, a new person had come to life. So live that way! “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v.11).’

And the point I am making is that Paul uses baptism as a marker in the life of the believer – as something he or she can look back on as a reminder of what God has done … and of how we should live, in light of it! And so today is an important day, for that reason, too. We are setting up a marker, as it were, in these five lives – a picture to which, Lord willing, they will always be able to look back as a portrait of what God has done in their lives … and therefore of what they are able to be and do, in Christ.

September 5, 2017

"He Himself is our peace"

I’m from the American South. The place where racial tensions have often been at their height. The place where slavery, Jim Crow, and ‘separate but equal’ had their heyday. But also the place where I saw the gospel of Jesus Christ, in stunningly beautiful ways, quietly transcend the ethnic divide which is so much on the forefront of current cultural dialogue.

The place was Tunica County, Mississippi – in the northern tip of that beautifully unique region known as the Mississippi Delta. This is a region where cotton was once king; where huge-scale agriculture is still the order of the day; where magnificent yellow crop-dusters buzz like giant dragonflies overhead; and where, in many localities, the majority population is African-American. It’s also the place where, eager to get my feet wet in pastoral ministry, I was called as a mission pastor (in the little crossroads of Robinsonville, in the northern part of Tunica County) during the summer before my second year of seminary.

Robinsonville, once a sleepy collection of mammoth cotton, rice, and soybean fields, was in a state of flux in the early 2000's.  Nine large casinos had recently been built along the Mississippi River, and both African-Americans from elsewhere in the county, as well as out-of-the-area transplants of various backgrounds and ethnicities, were moving into the area to work at the casinos (and at the hotels, restaurants, and so on that follow, like hungry seagulls, in the casinos' wake).  And the idea behind my coming was that this burgeoning population in northern Tunica County needed to be reached with the gospel. And, indeed, it did (and still does!).

In the two years we were there, we were able to touch a few of the out-of-the-area transplants with the message of Christ. But it turned out that most of those we touched with the good news were from among the African-American folks who had lived most of their lives in Tunica County. And it was glorious! Gathered together around Jesus Christ, the congregation there became, truly, a family!  And within the church family, if my assessment is correct, there was little to-do made over the oddity of a white, suburban preacher-boy and his wife serving, and immensely loved and welcomed by, a congregation of mostly rural-background African-Americans.  For, in the midst of studying the Bible together, and considering the gospel of Christ together, and singing hymns together, and caring for each other, and just doing life together, I don’t think any of us thought too much about whether we were white, or black, or rural, or suburban. And we certainly didn’t experience any racial tension within the congregation. Were we different in some ways? Absolutely! Did we realize that fact? Of course (sometimes comically!). But it never became a point of contention, or even really much of a point of discussion. We had other, more pressing, things to be doing and discussing! Jesus was bringing us together around Himself!

This was not a part of any strategy or master plan for racial harmony. I was too wet-behind-the-ears to have had any ideas for tackling something like that (and, honestly, too na├»ve to know that it could even have been an issue). But Christ and His gospel really do make a difference when it comes to questions of ethnicity, heritage, culture, and so on! Writing about gospel unity among Jews and Gentiles, Paul said something that, I think, also applies to all sorts of other differences and potential divisions in the church: “He Himself [Jesus] is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14). “He Himself is our peace” (emphasis added)! And how true we found that to be! Where people truly gather around Christ, and know Christ, and worship Christ … no matter how different from one another they may be in many respects, they will, by a new spiritual instinct, genuinely love each other! And their differences will seem fairly small in light of what they have in common in Jesus.

So, brothers and sisters, in this day of ethnic tension and dialogue, let us lift up Christ above all else. “He Himself is our peace.”

August 29, 2017

Paul's Letters

The apostle Paul (also known as Saul) is famous for his letters – to Christians in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, and so on. But, before Paul wrote any of these famous letters, we are told that he “asked for letters” (emphasis added) of a very different sort:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2
These were very different letters, indeed, which Paul had tucked into his satchel as he made his way down the road to Damascus! These were letters meant, not to instruct, encourage, and correct the churches … but to destroy them. These letters, unlike those for which he later became famous, had their inspiration in hell rather than in heaven! But praise God that, before Paul was able to execute the permission these letters granted, heaven intervened … not only on behalf of the Christians in Damascus, but on behalf of Saul himself!

Saul met Jesus on that trip to Damascus, and was forever changed! Now, instead of Saul “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” … now, through Paul’s letters, the Lord Himself would breathe out His very own words … “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Saul went from carrying letters for the devil, to writing letters for the Lord!

And isn’t God’s mercy rich? Isn’t His grace great? And isn’t “Jesus Christ … the same yesterday and today and forever”? He is! And that means that He is still saving souls … and even Sauls! So pray for them! Pray for the seeming ‘tough nuts to crack’ in your life – the people who, though not hateful or militant like Saul, still seem (to our weak faith) like they are among the least likely people who would ever turn to Christ, and to begin serving His kingdom. For, if Christ saved Saul, He can save the seemingly ‘unlikely candidates’ in our lives, too!

And He can save the militants, as well! So pray for the conversion, even, of people who hate the church, and wish to see her destroyed. “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” Are members of ISIS, or the persecutors in North Korea, too difficult for the Lord to save? Absolutely not! So pray for them! Pray that they might be saved, and that they might be useful to God’s kingdom! They won’t, of course, write inspired letters, like the apostle did. But they might begin to preach from them!  They can go from handling the devil’s business, to delivering the Lord’s gospel mail!  Pray that it might be so!

August 25, 2017

"We shall always be with the Lord"

There are multiple reasons to be excited about your wedding day. One is, perhaps, just the sheer relief of having the weight of all the preparations and stresses finally coming to an end. Another, of course, is the joy of having the people you love most (and who love you most) all together in one place. And then there is simple delight in the beauty of it all … the dresses, the flowers, the table cloths and candles, the culinary fare. But most of all (as I have lately been reminded by listening to a recently married couple!) … most of all, the bride and groom long for and look forward to that day because, finally, they will get to be together! Finally they will wake up, every morning, to each other’s faces! Finally they will live together in the same dwelling!

And we can speak similarly about “the marriage of the Lamb” – about the coming of Christ to receive His bride. There are multiple reasons to long for and look forward to that day! In that day, the weights and stresses of this life will finally, mercifully have come to an end! In that day, there will be a family reunion of family reunions! And the beauty of that banquet? Well, let us just say that the beauty of our earthly weddings is only a foretaste of the beauty on which our eyes will feast in the new earth! And not only these things, but (unlike in our earthly marriages!) sin will have been forever abolished from the earth – “a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

But, as with earthly brides, what Christ's bride longs for the most (it is to be hoped) is the pleasure of finally getting to be with her bridegroom; finally sharing a dwelling together; finally living together ‘happily ever after!’

“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, emphasis added).

Oh, let us look forward to that day – all the stresses of this life ended, all the family of God gathered together in one place, all the beauty we can imagine (and more), all our sins forever banished, and all of eternity to live in the presence of our Bridegroom, our Redeemer, our King, our Friend!  Praise God, in that day, “we shall always be with the Lord”!

August 21, 2017

'Thine eclipse'

In his excellent biographical message on John Newton, John Piper quotes the following marvelous words from Newton's pen, on the occasion of an eclipse (albeit, of a different sort than today's):
Tonight I attended an eclipse of the moon. How great, O Lord, are thy works! With what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfill their courses. . . . I thought, my Lord, of Thine eclipse. The horrible darkness which overwhelmed Thy mind when Thou saidst, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Ah, sin was the cause — my sins — yet I do not hate sin or loathe myself as I ought” (Richard Cecil, The Life of John Newton, edited by Marylynn Rousse, p. 134).
As you view the eclipse today, think on Christ , "the Light of the world", entering into the darkness of death and judgment on behalf of us sinners.  And thank God for His eclipse.

August 18, 2017

"His spirit was being provoked"

So we are told about the apostle Paul on his visit to the city of Athens: “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 16:16). And, if we read on in the chapter, we find that he was provoked, not to disgust or isolation … but to gospel action! “His spirit was being provoked within him … So [because of the provocation of his spirit] he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (vv.16-17, italicized emphasis and words in [brackets] are mine).

Now, Paul’s provocation at the idolatry in Athens surely wasn’t the only reason Paul preached Christ to the Athenians! Paul was already on a preaching trip! But the word “so” tucked between Paul’s provocation and his preaching lets us know that the stirring of his spirit over the Athenians’ idols did motivate him to preach Christ! And his actions in Athens beg a few application questions concerning our own lives:

First, are we provoked by our city full of idols, and full of unbelief? Modern Americans don’t worship Zeus and Aphrodite, but there are still idols on the thrones of American hearts. And there is a great dearth of real faith in the one true God. Does that bother us? Are we sad when we see people mowing their lawns, or out for a jog, on Sunday morning … instead of heading to meet with God and His people? Are we troubled by our-co-workers’ man-centered worldviews? Are we bothered by the immodesty and immorality that are constantly paraded before our nation on television?

And then, second … if we are provoked in our spirits over the idolatry and unbelief around us, is it a provocation of disgust, or of concern? Do we badmouth our neighbors, or ache for them?

And, thirdly … if we are concerned, and if we do grieve, do that concern and grief move us, like Paul, to gospel action? Are we reasoning with people, like Paul did, in our own city? Are we sharing Christ with co-workers? Are we speaking of the cross to neighbors? Are we presenting the gospel to family members? Are we magnifying Jesus on our Facebook pages? We may not be full-time missionaries like Paul, but we all have our own particular niches where the gospel can go forward from our lips and fingertips!

May it be, in our city, that we would be provoked to concern … and to gospel action … over the idolatry and unbelief around us!

August 7, 2017

"Sawn in two"

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy).” Hebrews 11:37-38a

These and other sufferings (vv.35-38) were the excruciating fates of some of our forefathers in the faith. Great opposition and persecution are sometimes the lot of God’s faithful people. And among the most shocking forms of persecution listed in Hebrews 11 (or anywhere else, for that matter) is the torment of being “sawn in two”. Read it again, soberly: “Sawn in two”. That’s not a grisly scene from a fictional horror movie. It actually happened, says the author of Hebrews. Indeed, there is a tradition that states that it happened to that great and eloquent prophet of God, Isaiah. And all these other great pains and trials actually happened, too – to real people! And some of them still do! The people of God didn’t just suffer in biblical times, but they have suffered greatly at various points since (read, for instance, about the Covenanters or the Huguenots); and they are suffering still (see The Voice of the Martyrs). And thinking about the severe suffering of our fathers and brothers in the faith (and perhaps our own severe trials, still to come) should come with at least four upshots, it seems to me:

1. Let us not murmur about our current, light sufferings. Do we sometimes experience opposition or discrimination for our faith? Yes. Have we been stoned or sawn in two? No. And so, while we rightly recognize, and pray about, and groan under whatever pushback we may receive for our faith … let us not make it out as though we are some great martyrs. And certainly, let us not murmur (Philippians 2:14).

2. Let us pray and act on behalf of the sufferers. “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Don’t forget the people who are suffering, even today, after the manner of Hebrews 11:35-38! Remember them in your prayers, and in your generosity, too. The Voice of the Martyrs is a good organization to help you do both.

3. Let us be serious about our faith. If our forefathers (and many of our contemporaries, too) have been committed enough to the Lord to have ended up stoned, sawn in two, and persecuted in many other ways … then this Christianity thing is serious business! And if the devil is so opposed to Christ that he incites people to carry out such torture of Christ’s followers, then this Christianity thing is serious business! Let us be sure we treat it that way in every area of our lives … whether it results in us being respected, rejected, or rent in two. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [in Hebrews ch.11, that is], let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

4. Let us hope in eternity. “Here we do not have a lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). And, indeed, sometimes we have, in this life, a hostile city, or nation, or culture. Perhaps we are just on the cusp, in this culture, of finding that out, first-hand. But this life is not all there is; this city is not the lasting one! And “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). And so, while I do not say that we should not groan under our trials, yet we must not fixate on our trials … but on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and on “the glory that is to be revealed to us” when all these difficulties will be ended forever. Let us fix our minds on “the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14), where “they will hammer their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4) … and their saws, too! “Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

July 31, 2017

"Through what has been made"

Off my son went, out the front door, on an errand to check the mail. When, after a minute or two, he hadn’t returned … I made my way over to the front door myself, wondering what had happened to him. And through the doorway I saw him, standing stock still in the grass, staring up into the trees. He’d sighted a woodpecker, and the mail mission had been put on hold while he watched and wondered!

A few days earlier, spotting a tiny little moth (maybe the size of my pinkie nail), I had pointed it out to some of the children. And this same son then drew near to this little creature, and came back with a report that unfolded something like this: ‘Dad, that whitish, bluish, grayish moth had a black stripe down the edge of each wing, and a yellow stripe across the end of each wing, and his antennas were folded back.’

And I think this is a picture of health – not the health of the moth, I mean … but of the boy observing it! And not only health for a young lad, with his boyish interest in nature … but his wonder is a portrait of what would be healthy for us all! For does not the Scripture tell us, concerning our God, that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20)? One way we understand God is by observing “what has been made” by Him – woodpeckers, moths, foxes, cumulonimbus clouds, magnolia trees, oceans, streams, human beings, and so on! And the closer we look – at the stripes on a moth’s wings, or the habits of a woodpecker, or the intricacies of a honeysuckle blossom – the more of God’s glory, wisdom, and creativity we will be able to admire!

And so maybe take this as a challenge for the next week (or longer)! Try, each day, to notice – and to really spend a few minutes observing – something that God has made. Maybe it will be the bark on a tree, or perhaps the details on a mushroom, or even the pattern of your own fingerprint. Take the time to observe such things … and to consider what they teach you about the One who made them! And, if you know (or can find) some science that explains in more detail what you’re looking at, and why it has been crafted as it has, then you’ll be able to marvel at the Maker all the more!

And make sure you do marvel at Him! Don’t just say to yourself: ‘Isn’t this peach amazing? Isn’t that butterfly marvelous?’ … but, ‘Isn’t the Maker of these things amazing? Isn’t God marvelous, and grand, and creative, and wise, and powerful, and good to have created such a marvelous thing?’

“Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made”. Let us be sure that we see … and that we praise!

July 24, 2017

Coming in August and September

PRBC family … I thought it might be good to fill you in on the teaching and preaching plans for the next couple of months, and then to give you some practical suggestions for how you might participate in and benefit from what is to come. So, Lord willing, here are the plans for August and September:
  • Adult Sunday School: Ephesians. Brad and Tobey began, this past Sunday, leading the coed and ladies classes (respectively) through a study of the book of Ephesians.
  • Sunday Sermons: Matthew. I hope to begin a series through the book of Matthew beginning August 6. This will take a good bit longer than just the next two months … but we’ll try and make a start!
  • Wednesday Sermons: The Fruit of the Spirit. My hope is to look at one piece of the fruit– “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – each Wednesday night in August and September.
Now, with all that said, here are a few ways you can participate in and benefit from these studies: 
  • Pray. As you pray through the week, ask the Lord’s blessing on Brad, Tobey, and myself as we prepare and present week-by-week. And ask the Lord to give you, and all of us, “ears to hear”.
  • Come. If you haven’t been to Sunday School or Wednesday night in a while (or at all), consider joining us for the studies in Ephesians and The Fruit of the Spirit. You will be blessed.
  • Prepare. Here I’m thinking, particularly, about Sunday School. Grab one of the study guides on Ephesians (from the adult Sunday School classrooms), work through the lesson each week, and come on Sundays at 10, ready to chip in to the discussion!
  • Read ahead. Perhaps use your family worship on Saturday night, or your quiet time on Sunday morning, to read the passage in Matthew that will (Lord willing) be preached on Sunday. If you’d like to read ahead, while my plans are always subject to change (and please forgive me if they do!), right now I’m planning on the following dates and passages in Matthew:
        o 8/6 – Matthew 1
        o 8/13 – Matthew 2
        o 8/20 – Matthew 3
        o 8/27 – Matthew 4:1-11
        o 9/3 – Matthew 4:12-25
        o 9/10 – Matthew 5:1-12
        o 9/17 – Matthew 5:13-16
        o 9/24 – Matthew 5:17-48
May “the LORD make His face shine on [us]” as we open His word together, and on our own, in the weeks ahead!

July 18, 2017

People of Song

Sitting in the little chapel each week, her tired head usually hung down toward the floor – her shoulders slouched forward, her chin angled towards her chest, her eyes either closed or staring blankly. She was weary with age, and cobwebs had settled over her mind. And yet (memorably, beautifully!), when greeted, or handed a hymnbook, her chin would lift, and her deep brown eyes would brighten – maybe almost surprisedly, because she had been gently startled out of the fog … but softly and thankfully, because she was grateful to have been awakened by an act of kindness.

In the few times we met, she never spoke to me. I doubt if she spoke much at all anymore. But it was one of the highlights of my occasional trips to preach in that little chapel to see her eyes brighten when she was approached. I hope I shall see them again in heaven … and hear her voice responding, for the first time, to mine in conversation.

Thinking back on that day, I am reminded of the importance of singing in the Christian life! Yes, we must memorize scripture itself. And learning a catechism by heart is excellent as well. But singing is also so helpful in learning and retaining our theology! Music – and good poetry, set to it – seem to have a way of sticking with us, perhaps (like my aged friend) even when many other things have drifted beyond our mental grip. My elderly friend didn’t seem to be able to say anything, but she could still sing something! And praise God it was a hymn!

Now, it’s very possible that my elderly friend’s memory, by that date, was outdistancing her cognizance. That is to say that I am not sure how well she understood what she was singing. Her mind was, indeed, very tired. But, be that as it may, the singing seemed beautifully to touch her in a way that nothing else did, so that I think she must have gotten something out of it, even if it was just a brief memory of the Lord’s goodness, and/or of the pleasure of singing to Him – either of which would be an exceedingly valuable ray of sunshine, living most of her days, as she did, in the fog. I don’t know, in her condition, that she got much from my sermons (indispensable as preaching is), but she did seem to get something from that old hymn!

So what will you (and your children) have to feed on, some day, in the nursing home, if you get to the point at which most other forms of memory and communication are virtually gone? Oh, let us be people of song! Let us sing, not only in our church services, but in our homes and daily lives. And let us sing the best songs! Let us imprint good theology deeply upon our minds so that it will perhaps still be there when so much other memory is gone!

And let us imprint it there, too, so that it will be there in all these intervening years when we can pause and think about what we are singing, and what our God is like. My friend may not have been able to really grasp all that she was singing on that day. But, if she still knew the song then, when her mind was all but withered away, surely she must have known it ten and twenty years before, when she would have still had the faculties for thinking it through. And so let us have songs stored in our memories, too! Let us sing and learn and have on our hearts the best songs of the faith … such that we can meditate on good theology while we still can! Let us be people of song!

July 13, 2017

The Ministry of Refreshment

Are there people in your life who refresh you? People whose presence, or encouragement, or perspective, or hospitality, or kindness, or generosity leave you feeling energized and happy as you walk away from your time together? People who, when you are with them, you find yourself loathe to leave, and desiring to linger? I hope you know that feeling! I hope you know and are loved by such people!

The church family in Colossae knew such refreshment. They had experienced it in the hospitality of Philemon, in whose home they met (Philemon v.2), and by whom they were loved (v.5). Paul commends Philemon in these memorable words in v.7: “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Isn’t that a wonderful compliment? Isn’t it one that you’d like to be written of you? “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

Sometimes we might pour out refreshment in just the way that Philemon did – by hosting church gatherings in our homes. We normally meet, of course, in the church building, rather than in homes. But there is a delight that takes place in those times when we do gather in someone’s living room, and are blessed not only by the activity at hand, but by the setting and the hospitality. And praise God for the folks who host us!

But there are other ways, too, in which we can refresh “the hearts of the saints”. Maybe we host, not an official church gathering, but an informal dinner or dessert or time of fellowship with a handful of brothers and sisters in Christ. Or perhaps we send someone a hand-written note of encouragement. Or maybe we prepare dinner for the family of a sick or nursing mother. Perhaps we notice a particular physical need (or even want) of a young family, and find a way to meet it. Or we watch the kids so that mom and dad can have a date night. Or we regularly invite singles over for Sunday lunch. Or take time to go visit old friends out of town, to remind them that they are cared for and nor forgotten. And you can brainstorm other avenues of refreshment, too, suitable to the needs of the people around you.

I and my family have experienced a great deal of such refreshment from God’s people, near and far. Thank you! And I have seen it on display, as an observer, many times in our church … as many of you refresh, and are refreshed by, one another. Again, thank you! Like Paul, “I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Let’s keep doing it! Let’s continue to excel in the ministry of refreshment!

July 4, 2017

"Power is perfected in weakness"

These were the Lord’s words to His servant Paul, as Paul quotes them in 2 Corinthians 12:9. And, in the context, the idea is clearly that it is the power of Christ that is perfected in the weakness of His servant! Christ shows Himself most strong in His people precisely when those people are weak! For it is then that we (hopefully) depend on Him most desperately. And it is in our weakness that it will be obvious that the strength comes from Him, and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7). And so (2 Corinthians 12), Christ’s “strength is perfected in [our] weakness.”

Now that sounds really great, when rolling off the tongue, doesn't it? Christ’s “power is perfected in [my] weakness.” Marvelous! Print it on a greeting card!

But when we actually begin to be put in a position to experience this truth … well, that’s sometimes a horse of a different color, isn’t it? IBecause most of us don’t actually like to be weak! We don’t like the feelings of struggle or inability or feebleness. We want to be strong! We want to be able to do it! And so, quaint as it may sound to say: ‘O yes, Christ’s “power is perfected in [my] weakness”’ … it is not so quaint when we are actually confronted with our weakness, is it? What our flesh so often wants to say is not: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) … but simply: “I am strong.”

Wouldn’t we often prefer that God prove Himself strong by taking our weakness away, rather than by manifesting His power in our weakness? There’s nothing wrong with asking Him to remove the weakness, of course. Three times Paul asked for God to do so; for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (vv.7-8). But God’s answer (v.9) was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” ‘I’m going to leave you in weakness,’ in other words, ‘because it is in your weakness that My power is most gloriously manifested.’

What about that? What if God does that in your life? What if, in order to most gloriously demonstrate His grace and His might … what if God decides to leave you with “a thorn in the flesh” that “torment[s]” you (v.7)? What if He decides to show His power in and through your weakness, rather than by taking it away? Even though God will be showing Himself strong, you are still going to feel weak in the midst of it all, aren’t you? Because you are weak! And oh, my friends, I have to confess that I don’t like the sound of that! It’s not what I wish for. I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to be frail, and afraid, and unable. And yet it seems, lately, that this has become my lot. And surely some of you could say the same. But let us believe the word of the Lord, and be “content with [our] weaknesses” (v.10) – and even embrace them – since it is in them that Christ shows Himself most strong!

And so the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9 may not be as quaint as it at first sounds. But it is true!  And it is glorious, and best.