May 25, 2018

Pastureland and Provision

V a s t, green stretches of open pastureland – often without a building, or any other human beings, in sight. This was among the most breathtaking sights on my recent trip out west.

The landscape was striking, of course, because of its uniqueness – such vistas don’t open up to us every day in Cincinnati (nor even in many rural places east of the Mississippi, where even the most uncluttered of our open landscapes still hold a house here, a barn there, or some lights on the horizon).

The peacefulness and simplicity of such places is also stunning for us modern, fast-paced, digitally-connected Americans. The rolling hills, the ‘big sky’, the gentle breeze, the sound of birds – they seem to beckon one to just lay down in the grass for an hour or two, looking up at the sky, and forgetting all this complicated world.

And then this reality occurs to me as well – this marvelous countryside not only fills the souls of men with marvel, but also fills the bellies of thousands of cattle, and sheep, and bison, and pronghorn! These vast hills and plains are their pantry, their dinner table, their daily bread! And what a spread it is! How richly our heavenly Father has provided for them (Psalm 145:16)! What a marvelous food supply He has created for their good!

And, as Jesus says about the birds, “Are you not worth much more than they?” If God feeds the birds, Jesus reasons with us in Matthew 6:26, then surely He will also feed us, who are far more valuable than any sparrow, hawk, or dove. And I saw the same logic, on a grand scale, in the western United States. If our Father has provided this vast food supply for the bison, and the cows, and so on … then surely He will provide for us humans who have been created in His own image; and all the more so for those whom He has re-created in His Son!

And, of course, we don’t have to go to Montana or Wyoming to digest this logic. The birds Jesus speaks of live all around us – along with squirrels, and deer, and suchlike. And God is feeding them – often right before our eyes, if we pause to observe it. So pause to observe it! “Look at the birds of the air”! And remember, as William Cowper has paraphrased Jesus’ teaching, that “He who feeds the ravens will give His children bread.”

May 8, 2018

Glad That We Came

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’”

So wrote David in Psalm 122. He was glad when it was time to go to worship! Similarly, I have often prayed, in my pulpit prayers, that God would enable us to leave our Sunday gatherings ‘glad that we came’ – glad to have made our way, that day, to the house of God. And I do hope that that is your experience of Sunday worship – that you are glad to go to God’s house, and that you leave glad that you went! So let me give you three suggestions to help you be glad to go, and glad that you went, “to the house of the LORD” from week to week.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It will be much easier to be glad to go to worship, and to be glad that you went, if you are not thinking about getting get back home to watch the game; if you are not mulling what you need to pick up at the store that afternoon; if you are not stewing over a list of chores you hope you might complete by Sunday’s end. In short, you will be much more likely to soak in the blessings of the day if you don’t have anything else on which you are fixated, anywhere else to be, or anything else to do on the Lord's Day; if you’ve organized your Sundays such that soaking up spiritual blessings is the order of the day. The less your bread is saturated with distractions, the more capacity it will have for sopping up the honey of the things of God!  See Isaiah 58:13-14.

Walk with God the rest of the week. Enjoy the honey Monday through Saturday, and you will be all the more eager to come to the honey festival on Sunday! “Taste and see that the LORD is good” all week long, and you’ll have a hankering for the big meal on Sunday. But if you satisfy your taste buds with other things all week, don’t be surprised if you feel rather meh about coming to the Sunday feast.

Pray for your Sunday services. Describing the childhood church-going experience of the great missionary John G. Paton and his siblings, John Piper has said that “the meat at the temple was so rich, they were eager to get there.”* Pray that your church services will be like that! Particularly, pray for those who prepare the meat – for those who select and lead scripture readings and songs, and for your pastor and other teachers as they prepare the sermons and lessons for God’s people – that they would prepare and serve you an absolute feast, week by week! Pray that “the meat at the temple” would be “so rich” that you would be “eager to get there” … and then glad that you went!

*Taken from Piper’s biographical message, You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals! Lessons from the Life of John G. Paton.  Piper is describing, in his own very memorable words, what Paton himself says about his childhood church-going.  The quote is found in the audio version of the message, though not in the written manuscript.