April 19, 2018

"Lift it up, do not fear"

"Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
'Here is your God!'"
Isaiah 40:9

Some of you will know, and others of you may be surprised to know, that I sometimes struggle with significant fear in the matter of lifting up my voice to speak God’s word. Sermon preparation can, at times, be quite nerve-wracking as I agonize over whether I am getting this or that item right. Second-guesses (not of the Bible, but of myself) also occasionally come into my mind, mid-sermon: ‘Did I say that right? Is the way I phrased that sentence misleading? Did I cite that commentator correctly?’ And then, even after my voice has been lifted up, and the sermon is done, there is the further challenge of putting the sermon online, and wondering the above sorts of things all over again. Pray for me! For, though such fears may sound absurd, they seem very real when I am in the midst of them.

Maybe you are sometimes afraid of (or afraid while) lifting your voice, too. Maybe, when sharing the gospel, or teaching a Bible class, you worry about whether you are getting it right – not because you don’t know the Bible well enough (which is a legitimate reason to second-guess yourself!), but because you’re a worrier, like me. Or perhaps you have a fear of speaking God’s word to people because of the potential of getting a poor response from them. ‘Will they mock me? Will they become angry with me? Will they distance themselves from me, relationally?’ And then there is just the plain old fear (regardless of the content spoken) of speaking in front of a group, or to someone we don’t know well – a fear which can weigh heavily upon us in various situations, including those in which we are called to speak for our God.

How do we overcome such fears? Well, I’m no expert. I often struggle mightily. But one strategy I’ve found helpful is to quote or paraphrase to myself, just before going into the pulpit, those words from Isaiah 40:9 – “Lift up your voice … Lift it up, do not fear.” These words, of course, remind me that I must not fear. But they also imply, it seems to me, that I need not fear; that the God who has called me to speak for Him will be with me in that speaking, so that I can be confident, rather than afraid. And maybe Isaiah 40:9 will be helpful to you in that way, too. Store it in your memory bank, and remind yourself of it when it’s time to speak for the Lord.

Remember, too, that your opportunities to speak “the good word of God”, and any specific gifting you have for doing so, are among the talents (Matthew 25) that God has entrusted you to steward. And you mustn’t hide them in the ground. You must use what God has given you, my friend! You must “lift up your voice”! “Lift it up, do not fear.” You won’t do so perfectly. You won’t always do so painlessly. But, with God at your side, you may do so confidently!

April 11, 2018

"Let love of the brethren continue"

The following article was composed, specifically, for the Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church family ... but may be of help to others in thinking about (and continuing!) the love that exists within your own church family.  May it be so!

‘What are the strengths of the church?’

That’s the question someone recently asked me, concerning PRBC.  And it's a good question!

I was glad to answer, in the words of one of our other elders (Charles) from awhile back, that the church has proven to be a kind of nest; a safe haven and soft landing spot for those who have needed such – younger Christians, strugglers of various kinds, people who just need a calm and nourishing church atmosphere where they can, for a season, gain (or re-gain) spiritual strength. This is an important ministry!

I was also happy to reply that our church has been, for well over a decade now, relatively conflict and controversy free. The spirit of unity here has truly been a gift from the Lord, and surely has been one reason we’ve been able to be the aforementioned safe haven!

It is also true that the family at Pleasant Ridge truly cares for one another. I am so pleased to see folks giving rides, visiting the nursing home, providing meals, helping with children, and so on. This is a sign of strength! And let me add, here, that a friend of mine recently pointed out to me how much the people of PRBC love me. Thank you, brothers and sisters! Your care for one another has extended wonderfully to your pastor and his family!

Praise the Lord for His kind working in and for us! And thank you, church family, for walking with and serving Him in these ways. It occurs to me that they are all related to that fruit of the Spirit which is love. And let me encourage you, now, to “Let love of the brethren continue” (Hebrews 13:1).

Sometimes we may need to be encourage to begin loving one another in ways that we haven’t been doing. Other times the call may be to rekindle our love for one another. And then there are times when we are loving one another, and simply need to be reminded to continue down this happy path! And so let me encourage you in this latter way.

You have been a marvelous safe haven, PRBC, for so many people. “Let love of the brethren continue.” You have walked together in a Spirit of wonderful unity. “Let love of the brethren continue.” You have cared so well for one another, and for your pastor and his family. “Let love of the brethren continue.”

“By this” said Jesus “all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So, my brothers and sisters, “Let love of the brethren continue.”

April 3, 2018

Light

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19

This fallen world, even for the Christian, is so often “a dark place”, is it not? The culture in which we live is shrouded in a godless midnight of unbelief and idolatry. Our own circumstances, when we are in difficulty, can be like dark clouds looming over our heads. Depression, too, can be like a dreadful series of gloomy, sunless days. And then there is, of course, the darkness of our own sin, ever lurking in our hearts, and breaking onto the surface far more than we would like. And so we can identify, I think, with Peter’s reference to “a dark place.”

And yet praise God that we have “the prophetic word” – the Bible – which serves us as “a lamp shining in a dark place”! Praise the Lord for the lantern of the Scriptures! And let us be sure that we use them as such; that we “pay attention” to them! Let us hold the lantern up above our lives, so that we can actually say with the psalmist, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Dark as things may be, we don’t have to grope around in that darkness! Praise God, He has provided us with a lamp!

And praise Him, too, not only for His provision of light, now … but also for His promise of light, later! For the days will not always be dark, says Peter. They will only be dark “until the day dawns”; until Christ, the Light of the world, shall return to this earth like the morning sun, and shall dawn upon His people with the brightness of His glory. In that day, the midnight of our godless culture will give way to a bright morning sun! And for the Christian, the light of Christ’s presence will, in the words of Henry Van Dyke*, ‘melt the clouds of sin and sadness’ and ‘drive the dark of doubt away’!

So let me urge you, Christian friend – to make use of the provision, and to bank on the promise, of light from the Lord! Open the written word and let it be, for you, “a lamp shining in a dark place.” And look forward to the coming of Jesus, the incarnate Word, who is “the Light of the world”, and who will soon dawn on His people like the glory of the morning sun!


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*From the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. Van Dyke, it seems to me, rightly employs the words quoted above as a prayer for present light from the Lord (which light the Lord often gives!). I make use of his phraseology, however, as also being an apt way of describing the future dawning of Christ’s light.